HRE's 3D-printed titanium wheels are basically witchcraft
Thankfully they're just conceptual, because there's no way to keep that wheel clean.
Andrew KrokReviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Arthur C. Clarke's third law of futurist writing states, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." HRE's new 3D-printed titanium concept wheels very nearly fall under that definition.
HRE Wheels announced this week that it teamed up with GE Additive to create the HRE3D+ concept wheel. This wild design, which has spokes going through other spokes, was created using 3D-printed titanium, allowing the wheel company to create a design that wouldn't be possible through traditional manufacturing methods like CNC machining alone.
Here's how it works. The wheel was created from titanium powder and a type of 3D printing called electron beam melting. An electron beam generates heat, which is used to form the powder into metal structures in a vacuum. Titanium likes to react with oxygen, so the vacuum bit is especially important. This technology can make more than wheels -- it's being investigated for use in medical-implant and aerospace manufacturing, as well.
HRE and GE Additive created the wheel in five distinct sections comprising the face of the wheel. Those five pieces were combined with a custom center section, all of which was eventually bolted to a carbon-fiber wheel rim using titanium fasteners. Some machining is still required, since its precision is unmatched and components like bolt holes need to be engineered to perfection.
While it's definitely a wild wheel, it's thankfully just a concept for now. Not only would 3D-printed titanium wheels be egregiously expensive, just as the machines required to make them are, there's also the matter of keeping the wheels clean. In the course of standard operation, wheels pick up brake dust and other grime, and it usually takes good effort to keep every inch of a wheel clean. Now imagine trying to clean a wheel with spokes running through other spokes. You'd be in your garage with a toothbrush for the better part of a week.
Nevertheless, this is a killer project that shows just what sort of things 3D printing can bring to the table. Many of us covering the industry might be inclined to think of 3D printing as something that could benefit the manufacturing of parts inside vehicles, but the HRE3D+ concept proves it can be used to enhance aesthetics, too.
Take a look at how HRE made its 3D-printed titanium wheels