KNOXVILLE—The only “car” that most people associate with printers is a “car-tridge” of ink, but that may soon change thanks in part to several students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Local Motors, Cincinnati Incorporated, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities teamed up to print a working, drivable car over the weekend at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.
The Strati 3D, officially produced by Local Motors, which has an office on Market Square in Knoxville, highlighted the show and placed what sounds like a product of science fiction firmly in the realm of reality.
“This brand-new process disrupts the manufacturing status quo,” said John B. Rogers Jr., chief executive officer of Local Motors. “It changes the consumer experience and proves that a car can be born in an entirely different way.”
(Related: To see a time-lapse video of the car being made, visit here.)
For UT students, the project was an opportunity to get real-world learning in what is known as additive manufacturing.
“Our students were critical to the success of the effort,” said Taylor Eighmy, UT’s vice chancellor of research and engagement. “We are so fortunate to able to collaborate with ORNL and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility as we do.”
The students worked largely at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility with support from Volkswagen Chattanooga’s Distinguished Scholars Program.
“They did a fabulous job and were critical to the project,” said Craig Blue, the MDF’s director. “They were essential to the car being built in Chicago, and the overall project accelerated the adoption of innovative 3D printing.”
James Earle, a UT graduate, spearheaded the Local Motors efforts at the MDF, while a handful of UT students played key roles.
One of the biggest tasks involved improving the performance of software that allows engineers to see exactly how the printed layers will look before committing to printing them.
“We had an initial goal of coming up with software that could generate tool paths faster than existing programs but still allow us to have complete control,” said UT’s Kyle Goodrick, who worked on the overall project with fellow students Andrew Messing, Aaron Young, and Alex Roschli.
Goodrick and Roschli are electrical engineering majors, while Messing and Young are majoring in computer science.
Much in the same way that a printer prints one line after the next, a 3D printer builds one layer of the final object after the next.
Messing worked on the framework to plan the printing paths, while Goodrick and Young worked on ways to improve their visualization and facilitate easier repair.
Once at the show, Roschli and Messing operated the printer.
“The car is done, but our work on this project is just beginning,” said Roschli.
Young added that he was able to directly use some of the things he learned in class while working on the project, again showing the connection between the work and research at UT and ORNL.
ORNL group director Lonnie Love said that UT’s students played a critical role on the project, adding, “From our perspective, to say that this project would have been a failure without the students is not an overstatement.”
Local Motors said it expects to put the car into production and make it available to the public in the coming months.
As part of that effort, the company plans to get UT students involved in its local micro factory in Knoxville, allowing them to help create the next line of 3D-printed vehicles.
For more on UT’s Office of Research and Engagement, visit http://research.utk.edu.
For more on the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, visit http://eecs.utk.edu.
For more on Oak Ridge National Laboratory, visit http://ornl.gov.
For more on the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, visit http://ornl.gov/user-facilities/mdf.
For more on Local Motors, visit http://localmotors.com.