The man behind a supercar built Lego-like from a 3-D printer believes the future of the automotive industry lies with the ground-breaking technology.
“How we make cars is actually a much bigger problem than how we fuel our cars,” says Kevin Czinger, CEO and founder of California company Divergent Microfactories.
Czinger (above) says he built the car he calls the Blade to reduce the materials, energy, cost, and the overall environmental impact of making cars, a process that currently requires “capital investment in technologies that date back to the 1920s”.
He said the cost of building Blade was one-fiftieth that of traditional assembly line manufacture.
“Society has made great strides in its awareness and adoption of cleaner and greener cars,” says Czinger. “The problem is that while these cars do now exist, the actual manufacturing of them is anything but environmentally friendly.
“We’ve found a way to make automobiles that holds the promise of radically reducing the resource use and pollution generated by manufacturing.
“It also holds the promise of making large-scale car manufacturing affordable for small teams of innovators. And as Blade proves, we’ve done it without sacrificing style or substance.”
Blade is a bobsled-style two-seater with gull-wing doors and a chassis made using a laser-based 3-D printer, about 30kg of aluminium powder, and off-the-shelf carbon-fibre tubing.
The process turns the aluminium powder into junctions, called nodes, that are connected, Lego-like, to the carbon-fibre tubes. Result is a strong, mesh-like frame, a space frame of sorts over which Blade’s composite bodyshell is placed. The chassis alone weights 46kg.
That’s pretty much where the role of the 3-D printer ends. Czinger’s concession to automotive tradition is the use of a conventional engine and automatic gearbox, in this case a turbocharged four-cylinder 522kW dual-fuel unit switchable between petrol and compressed natural gas.
The finished product weighs 635kg – that’s 90 per cent lighter than a Toyota Corolla hatchback. The power-to-weight ratio means Blade is faster off the mark than any Ferrari or Lamborghini – Czinger claims a 0-100km/h time of 2.2 seconds.
The former US Marine, US assistant attorney and merchant banker has been trying to shake up the car industry since 2009 when he founded Coda Automotive, an electric car outfit, in Los Angeles.
Coda raised more than US$200 million but wasn’t able to sell more than about 100 cars during its four-year lifespan. Czinger stepped down as CEO in 2010 and the company filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in 2013.
This time, Czinger isn’t doing all the manufacturing himself – he is more interested in licensing its 3-D printing technology to a new generation of small carmakers.
“We’ve developed a sustainable path forward for the car industry that we believe will result in a renaissance in car manufacturing, with innovative, eco-friendly cars like Blade being designed and built in microfactories around the world,” he says.