ORNL 3D Prints Working Shelby Cobra Replica — President Obama Approves


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Last year, our top viewed stories all had one thing in common, they were in some way related to Local Motors and their 3D Printed Strati Car. Just a few years ago, if you were to ask almost anyone if we’d be printing out automobiles, they’d probably try committing you. Here we are in 2015, and Local Motor has already printed out more than one working vehicle.

o10For those who have not been following this incredible story, the Phoenix, Arizona-based Local Motors utilized a Big Area Additive Manufactuing (BAMM) machine which was created by Cincinnati Inc. along with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The printer is able to print incredibly fast and incredibly large. Utilizing a composite material, consisting of ABS plastic and carbon fiber, the machine was able to print out the entire Strati vehicle for Local Motors within 44 hours last year at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Detroit, Michigan.

This week, ORNL stepped things up a notch, with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on hand to witness it all. To mark the 50th Anniversary of the Shelby Cobra, an American-engined British sports car, ORNL decided to 3D print a functioning life-sized replica. Using the same general machine as Local Motors used to print their vehicle, along with an advanced carbon fiber composite material, the team of just six individuals at ORNL set out on this seemingly immense project to recreate the Shelby Cobra in just six weeks time.


How impossible did this task seem at first? Considering that it would have taken dozens of individuals approximately a year to complete, using traditional manufacturing methods, the team certainly had their work cut out for them. Why the rush? Well, the North American International Auto Show starts on Monday, January 12, and it would certainly be a travesty if this vehicle could not make an appearance.

So the team of six set out to 3D print the Shelby Cobra at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, the only car which has ever been voted a national monument.

The first step was to 3D print the main chassis. From their, they went on to 3D print the rest of the vehicle in several pieces, eventually bonding all the pieces together to form its main body. Next it was time to add in the electrical components, and of course the engine. These parts were obviously not 3D printed.o8

Due to the layer-by-layer printing process, there were defined layers within the carbon fiber composite which made up the body of the vehicle. If you remember seeing photos of Local Motor’s Strati, it was not smooth and shiny like most cars are off the lot. The Shelby, however, would have to be smoothed and finished so that it didn’t appear to be printed.  After all, back in the 60’s they certainly didn’t 3D print cars.

In the end, the vehicle turned out to be half the weight, and three times as strong as the original Shelby Cobra, with increased performance and safety. The team also integrated a zero-emissions electric motor into the vehicle, powered by wide bandgap power electronics, which are much more efficient and affordable than traditional technologies.

“The way we make prototype cars today is exactly the same way they made it 30-40 years ago, which is clay models,” explained Lonnie Love from the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. “What we are showing is that we can go well beyond that now. You can go and print out a working prototype vehicle in weeks, in days, and drive through the streets and look at people’s involvement, look at people’s excitement. You can test it for form, fit and function so your ability to innovate quickly has radically o6changed. I think there is a whole industry that can be build up around rapid innovation within transportation, and that again is revolutionary.”

The vehicle is now scheduled to head to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan from January 12-25, but before all that, two very special guests decided to pay the car a visit.

President Barack Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden were on hand at Techmer PM in Clinton, Tenn. yesterday  to announce the latest Manufacturing Innovation Hub and to have a look at the vehicle.

“So Joe and I just watched how these folks develop the composites here at Techmer,” stated Obama.  “That was cool.  We lost Joe’s attention when we laid eyes on that 3D printed sports car, the carbon fiber Cobra.  Biden started pulling out his aviator glasses and we had to explain to him, you don’t get to drive on this trip ”

“It ain’t my Corvette but it’s ok,” joked Biden.

We are certainly living in exciting times; times where technologies advance so rapidly that the future of manufacturing is almost impossible to accurately predict further then a couple of years out. Will we eventually be driving around in customized 3D printed cars? Probably. The only questions is, “when”?

Let’s hear your thoughts on yet another extraordinary 3D print in the 3D Printed Shelby Cobra forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the four videos below showing the entire printing and finishing process of the 3D Printed Shelby Cobra:





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