3D printing expert BigRep recently put together an impressive new prototype for a wheel rim, made using 3D printing technology. Product designer Marco Mattia Cristofori wanted to develop an object with a bold, striking design that would also demonstrate the benefits of using 3D printing for industrial applications. He chose to improve the design of a wheel rim, which is one of the most popular car parts for customization amongst auto aficionados. After taking a look at the types of rims and hubcaps that are currently available, Cristofori set to work on his own original 3D printed version.
Conventional wheel rim customization is usually done with injection molding techniques, which can be costly and time-consuming. The advantages of using 3D printing technology for this purpose are the huge amount of design freedom that is afforded, as well as the improved prototyping times. All that is necessary is to create a 3D model for a custom wheel design, and a 3D printer can realize it physically in one piece in a relatively short amount of time, provided the materials are up to standard.
"With 3D printing you can prototype organic forms, like with our Terra chair," said Cristofori. "It allows you to envision more complex shapes, because you don’t really have any limits."
A distinctive element of Cristofori’s 3D printed prototype is the fluid tree-branch-like formation that stems from the center of the wheel. These braces are a functional, stabilizing feature as well as a striking aesthetic touch, and they go against the norm of having just one layer or line on a wheel rim or hubcap. This kind of advanced wheel rim geometry would be very difficult to achieve with conventional methods. Not only would the shape of the structure be difficult to visualize, it would also be difficult to evaluate how well it would fit into the wheel before it was actually fabricated.
With 3D printing, intricate design features like this can be tested at the design phase, with the 3D modelling process enabling the exact dimensions to be calculated in order to get an accurate size and a straightforward assembly. This also makes 3D printed prototypes particularly useful for testing purposes, when the shape or dimensions of an end-use production part are changed.
The BigRep team printed the wheel rim on its BigRep STUDIO 3D printer, which has a print volume of 500 mm (19in) x 1000 mm (38in) x 500 mm (19in). According to Cristofori, a similar level of detail and precision would also be possible on the BigRep ONE, which has recently been upgraded with a new Power Extruder.
The 3D printed prototype was made using BigRep's own 3D printing filament PRO HT, which has good thermal resistance as well as performing well in a number of mechanical tests. PVA was also used to print support structures. Final production wheel rims still tend to be cast from steel, but it would be possible to use this same 3D design and printing method to build an end-use hubcap, which could be coated with powder in order to achieve a professional metallic effect.
The next project for Cristofori is the development of a new 3D printed automotive prototype to improve a vehicle’s aerodynamic capabilities, and he is likely to draw inspiration for this from BigRep’s 3D printed bionic propeller design, which features the same kind of smooth lines and fluid forms as the 3D printed wheel rim. The company continues to drive innovation in 3D design, materials, and printing technology.
Posted in Rapid Prototyping