Road to the future: Why carmakers are in love with 3D printing
Mercedes-Benz van unit has a team in Silicon Valley, working on how to make delivery vans more then a dumb box on wheels.
Sure the drivers have a lot of connectivity, special mobile devices Devices and sophisticated routing.
But the back of the van?
A dumb box.
We call it cargo sender system.
Christopher [UNKNOWN] of Mercedes Benz has been rapidly iterating smart load floors.
This is actually a new vision for a floor.
What is this?
It's literally a floor of tiles and each tile has a weight sensor in it in order to track cargo.
And the system will track where you're placing the package and How well the vehicles being utilized without additional feedback.
So, show me what's inside one of these tiles.
We have some low cells to take the weight data.
So, these these things sense weight in the corners.
Correct, we have a strip of LED's on the corner.
That's what makes the lights we saw.
Yes and the boards control all this with the radio to send it out.
So why start with a vision like this, not just the raw amount of weight in the vehicle, which we can kinda do now.
But what's interesting is what's where, and where did it move?
When did it leave the vehicle?
Exactly, because we're so precise with our weight tracking, we could tell which part goes where.
It's not limited to just, you placed the package here, now it must be here.
It's We're actively tracking these parcels.
Mercedes wants to come up with similar new innovations for a slew of industries that use its vans.
That means moving fast, and in a lot of directions.
You can't produce this fast with old techniques.
We were able to make these fast, and not only make the whole thing fast, but make these parts I came to this, make it XC, the parts that failed.
The parts that didn't fit for this design.
So you move through it, and end up here.
Classic Silicon Valley.
Fail hard, fail fast, and move on.
Enter 3D printing, via their partner Fathom in Oakland, California.
If you think what they do is just a bigger version of your 3D printer, think again.
The application for these printers
More so on the industrial side than on the consumer side.
I think we went through this high cycle.
Everyone thought there would be a printer in every single home.
It never really made sense.
Rich Stump and Michelle Mihevc are cofounders of Fathom 3D in Oakland, California.
They began selling 3D printers but now they make things with them.
Like those prototypes for Mercedes.
So at Fathom we focus on the outside in approach versus the inside out approach.
Focusing on how a product should function versus on how it should be made allows us to push the limits of manufacturing and product development.
We'll take a fast walk around Fathom and see some cool 3D printers.
And first of all, this is all known by the pros as Additive Manufacturing, because you create by precisely adding material instead of precisely removing it as with traditional meta, plastic, or wood machining.
First step is FDM, or Fused Deposition Modelling, this is the closest relative to the amateur 3D printer, strings of plastic guided by a precision tip and fused layer by layer The Pro machines use more types and better materials.
And you'll see they often build little support structures as they go as well.
Here, the white conical parts are just there to support the black parts which are the product.
But all of it was built as the machine goes along, which us to PolyJet, which also feeds through a nozzle, but in this case, using liquid, not plastic thread.
The way that this process starts is, you start with a liquid photopolymer material that gets jetted out through the modified ink jet print head, very precisely.
And gives you these parts a very smooth surface finishes and high dimensional accuracy.
Here's a flashlight that's got a grippy part, a hard shell, a flexible button.
Yeah, if you press the button it actually works
It actually works.
And this is printed, this case
As a piece.
SLA, or stereolithography, dates back to the mid-80s.
It's kinda the original, but still fascinating.
This is a photo-polymer resin, and what happens is its cured with a UV light.
That can shoot into different depths of this material and make something harden up inside there?
Yeah, one of the benefits of this technology is that it can make very large parts
And it's also very smooth surface finish.
Down the road from [UNKNOWN] is Carbon 3D.
They've developed a fascinating technique that starts with a vat of polymer, not unlike SLA we just saw.
But uses precisely aimed UV lights and carefully controlled presence of oxygen at the bottom of that pool to determine the fused shape that comes out of it It's really fast, and the parts are multidirectionally a single piece.
Not made of discernible layers.
Ford is an early explorer of this technology.
Back at fathom, there are two techniques that are related by the fact that they fuse powdered materials together.
SLS, or selective laser centering, uses nylon powder.
And DMLS or direct metal laser sintering obviously uses metal powder.
Both do their work in a high temperature chamber.
And the laser is just there to add a touch more heat at the precise moment which tips the material to it's fusing point.
Okay, I think I've saved the best for last.
In a room by itself off the main floor is this thing from a company called Nano Dimension in Israel.
It's called the Dragonfly 2020.
It deserves the fanciful name because what it does is amazing.
It does this.
Now you may say, that's just a printed circuit board, but that was made as a piece.
This thing prints the board, the substrate, as well as the traces on the surface, as well as the interconnects between both sides or multiple layers all as a printed object.
This could revolutionize the way electronics is prototyped, to rapidly test physical circuit design and in the deep future, this might even open the door to printing components, printing LED's, printing ICs, printing OM screens.
That is not on the far end but it was developed in a couple of places.
This guy, for now, is so rare, there are two in the world, one of them right here at Fathom, so you are really getting a look at the future Of how something comes out fully baked and very complex.
More car tech demystified at CNETOnCars.com, click on CAT TECH 101.