3-D Printed Car: Low Weight, High Strength, Speed

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

December 11, 2013

Kor Ecologic Inc. founder Jim Kor has been described as a shaggy introvert and hermit.

Yet this engineer is out to change the world with the Urbee, a unique hybrid vehicle that dares to be plastic, can zip across the country on 10 gallons of fuel and is manufactured using a sophisticated 3-D printer.

"We want to create the greenest car on Earth," said Kor, who designs tractors and city buses for mass production.

Kor snatched the idea from nature. The Urbee, an electric vehicle with ethanol backup, needed to be light and strong like a falcon and fast like a cheetah. But making this happen took a special 3-D printing technology to deliver strength and speed at a low weight.

By late 2011, Kor and his team had designed their dream. They built the car's body in Stratasys' RedEye 3-D printing factory in Eden Prairie, MN.

Computers read the design software and "printed" each part layer by layer. A plastic bumper was born, then a hood, and so on.

While 3-D printing has long been used to make gears, grilles, tools, parts and prototypes for other manufacturers, it had never been used to build the entire body of a car.

The Urbee car parts were shipped and assembled back in Kor's lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They were outfitted with two electric motors and a small ethanol engine. Today, the two-seater, three-wheeled Urbee is on tour, visiting England this month.

"One day all cars will look like this," Kor said.

The goal is to commercialize the invention and to sell each one for about $16,000, the price of a Fiat 500.

"We need a sustainable car like this. But it has to be low-priced and affordable," Kor said.

Two weeks ago, Stratasys customer service supervisor Ashley Voigt hoisted a red Urbee bumper from one of Stratasys' refrigerator-sized printing machines.

"This one took a straight day and a half to make. We could have made it faster if we didn't care how it looked," Voight said.

By taking the time to precisely lay each plastic fiber, she got a smooth, high-resolution surface that looks like a finished part. During an industry conference at Stratasys last month, Kor said he has already designed the Urbee 2.

The first-generation Urbee gets 70 mpg, while the Urbee 2 will get 120 to 290 mpg.

But Kor first needs $3 million to convert drawings into reality. Fundraising started Oct. 30. If successful, production will begin in 2014.

A cross-country drive from New York to San Francisco is scheduled for 2015. On board will be Kor, his son and dog.

"We'll start with a half-scale model car in 2014. Once we have that tested, we are only a month away from making the full-scale model," Kor said.

Because all the design components are in the computer, it doesn't take long to scale up.

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