As founder of Divergent Technologies, Kevin Czinger belongs to that new generation of CEOs. That is, his vision for his company and the technology that it produces isn’t limited by the boundaries of mainstream thought. His goals aren’t isolated to building a successful firm or product. Instead, he is focused on the whole of society, what he can achieve for it and, only as a result, for himself.
That was the first impression I got when interviewing Czinger about the advanced production technology being developed at Divergent. Ahead of his upcoming appearance at the 2022 Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference, the Yale-football-star-turned-federal-prosecutor-turned-Goldman-Sachs-exec-turned-entrepreneur shared insight into his startup’s technology and vision, which have strong implications for the future of humanity.
A Digital Manufacturing System
Divergent was launched in 2014, Czinger’s second attempt at starting an electric vehicle company. This time, there was a new manufacturing technology around that could aid in not only driving a lean startup but also rebuild the way we produce things. With 3D printing, the entrepreneur realized that it was possible to take a modular and intelligent approach to manufacturing.
“If you ever visit our business, you see I run it like a Cold War era Lockheed Martin SkunkWorks. We have about 170 engineers and scientists all under one roof. They all sit together in the front of the building. The back of the building is the factory, and we do everything from R&D to production, to testing all in one facility. We have all of the functionality of a major OEM for testing structures probably, except for full vehicle crash,” Czinger said.
Originally, Divergent’s patented Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS) involved the use of 3D printed metal nodes that would, using intelligent robotics, connect carbon fiber rods to create a lightweight, high-performance automobile. The first demonstrator of this approach was the Blade, a supercar that gained a great deal of media attention.
However, since this vehicle was created, the company has matured significantly. DAPS is much more than a collection of nodes and rods, but a sophisticated system for designing and manufacturing entire automobiles. Using design optimization software, parts are created with the highest performance and lightest weight in mind. With SLM Solutions’ metal 3D printers, key parts are then 3D printed. Finally, a proprietary robotics cell is used to assemble the components, resulting in a functioning vehicle. It’s no wonder then that Divergent’s tagline is “Design Print Assemble Drive.”
A Hypercar Designed as Nature Intended
Not only has DAPS advanced, but so too has the demonstrator vehicle. The most current iteration created with DAPS is the Czinger 21C, a hybrid sports car that will be released with a production run of just 80 in 2023. The hypercar has 1,250 horsepower engine and features a number of complex 3D printed parts. While Divergent is the technology development and execution company, a majority-owned subsidiary, Czinger Vehicles, is actually using Divergent to manufacture the 21C in “what will be the first in a series of ultra-performance vehicles breaking the boundaries of design, performance and sustainability.”
“[The 21C] shows what the apex of our technology is for a product. And it shows the business model that we enable, which is as a car company, Czinger Vehicles has almost zero CapEx. We use our set of design tools to generate the structure of that vehicle. And then Czinger simply pays Divergent to print and assemble the structures that have been designed using the Divergent software.”
If you look at the designs of these components, you’ll see biologically inspired geometries only possible with AM.
“One thing we know for sure is that nature brutally competes for material and energy, and only in the end generates the most efficient structures. Therefore, why don’t we use that [same model] to create our products—use that high performance computing to generate within the design volume the perfectly optimized structure with the right design-for-purpose material? We could then materialize that in a way that evolution does—not taking eons of trial and error, but instead using that processing power to take microseconds to generate and simulate, and then materialize that structure.”
Mimicking nature, however, isn’t limited to optimized designs. Czinger also suggests that products should have lifecycles similar to those found in nature, in which materials are broken down and recirculated within the ecosystem. For this reason, he envisions vehicles made with Divergent’s technology being re-atomized and recycled for the production of another mass- and energy-efficient structure.
“Obviously, my ultimate goal is to create the first digital manufacturing system, which will be much more efficient with materials and energy and close the loop of those materials. That way, for the first time, we actually have a sustainable manufacturing system from a circular economy standpoint,” Czinger said. He went on to explain that, once Divergent establishes microfactories, he sees them as integrating into the local community.
Even when it comes to the energy driving his vehicles, Czinger is open to whatever nature has in store. When I pointed out that cobalt is in short supply, he quickly countered that there is more than one way to power a car. Even outside lithium-based batteries, there’s the potential for a methanol-based economy, in which CO2 can be captured and combined with hydrogen as an energy source.
“There’s a proven way to perform carbon capture. We know that you can drive that off of renewables. There’s a proven way to generate hydrogen in a green way. What happens when you combine hydrogen with CO2? You get CH3OH: methanol,” Czinger said. “Every single car out on the road could use methanol. Every single existing piece infrastructure out there could use methanol. If you use carbon captured out of the atmosphere as the basis for that methanol fuel, you have a zero-emission fuel because you’re simply cycling that material. That’s just one of a large number of examples I could come up with as alternative zero emission vehicle systems. We need to think clearly. We need to think first from our principles. We need to avoid being captured by lobbyist groups for any one particular technology.”
We Need a Printer with 12 Lasers
To ensure that the company can control all of those elements, it has built just about everything in-house to establish the DAPS system. Not only are the software and assembly hardware proprietary, but so too are the materials, including proprietary alloys and polymers. The only element developed with an outside partner was the 3D printing system.
Crucial to the progress Divergent has made has been its partnership with SLM Solutions. Czinger’s company has been the driving partner in the metal 3D printer maker’s creation of the 12-laser NXG XII 600 machine, of which Divergent already has six. In this way, Czinger has actually been the impetus for what 3DPrint.com has called the Laser Wars, which has seen SLM competitors VELO3D, 3D Systems, Additive Industries, and Farsoon explore many-laser metal 3D printers, as well.
“I brought a spec for an architecture for a 12-laser machine to SLM that would fit into the economics and rate required for the DAPS. That was a joint development partnership. We’ve been operating those printers for over 18 months. That is the first in a cycle of printers we’re going use to scale up. Obviously that printer works when you have all of the components of our system, which include our automated assembly and the way that we generate design and the materials that we’ve invented. We’ve been using that for almost two years and we’re the beta power user of what was designed to be part of the DAPS.”
From Hypercars to Mass Production
Hypercars are all well and good and, though their owners may likely have an outsized impact on greenhouse gases, the route to reducing the ecological footprint of the auto industry will depend on vehicles the average person can access. For this reason, Divergent has partnered with eight of the top ten global auto OEM groups.
“When you’re starting out and creating a new technology, say the first desktop computer, your performance is going to be lower and your costs are going to be higher because of scale and where you are in the technology development roadmap. So, you want to target a segment that allows you to quickly get adopted from a price and performance standpoint,” Czinger said. “One of the reasons we took [the 21C] out and set those track records was that we wanted to show people that you could design, print, and assemble on DAPS a production vehicle that would shatter any performance vehicle record. The full DAPS software-hardware stack to design, print and assemble now represents about 500 patents across the entire set of design subsystem, print subsystem, and assembly system. It’s all designed to apply to the mass manufacturer of all vehicles and all structure types.”
In this way, Divergent is creating a microcosm of auto’s adoption of additive on the global market scale. When it came to 3D printing end parts, companies like BMW began with the auto sports market, where lightweighting specialty components made the most sense economically and from a performance perspective. This was followed by luxury vehicles from the likes of Rolls-Royce. Now, Ford and Volkswagen are claiming that they will mass produce 3D printed parts for more ordinary consumer vehicles. In addition to its own Czinger Vehicles, Divergent will be working with six brands, including five of the top six global OEM groups to get cars on the road.
“We’ll be out on the road in consumer hands in September of this year with a major auto manufacturer that we’ve been working with for years. We’re going to start where lightweighting is highly valued and the product has a higher price, and the performance is more important. We’re going to get it adopted there, we start to add our own set of micro factories with these OEMs and start to scale. We come down the cost curve and it starts to be applied to larger and larger segments.”
One wonders who these other brands might be. Could one be Ford, given its public activity in AM and upcoming appearance at AMUG alongside Czinger? Other candidates might be BMW and VW, both pioneers in metal 3D printing for end parts.
Outpacing the Competition
Speaking with Czinger, it becomes clear that, while there are a number of companies out there working to 3D print end parts for the automotive and other sectors, Divergent seems to be among the closest to true lights-out manufacturing. Not only is the startup 3D printing parts for its vehicles, but it has a proprietary method for assembling them.
“We spent almost five years fully qualifying these structures from elemental materials, characterization to full vehicle crash, fully qualified the production system from an OEM perspective. We went through numerous major OEM audits of the company in order to qualify fully as a tier one supplier. I would say there is no one who’s remotely even started to do what we’re doing.”
From Blade to the 21C, Divergent 3D has come a long way and, if Czinger is right about the role his technology will play in a circular and perhaps methanol-based economy, we can only hope that it goes further. There are hints that the firm has some big news to announce this year. If you’d like to learn more, stay tuned for AMUG 2022, where Kevin Czinger will be providing the keynote on Tuesday, April 5 at 9 am CT at the Hilton Chicago.
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