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ORNL 3D printed a full-scale Shelby Cobra replica, a highlight of Obama visit

President Obama took the stage at Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee, on Friday to announce thatUniversity of Tennessee in Knoxville will head a $259 million advanced manufacturing project and thatOak Ridge National Laboratory will play a key role.

During Obama's visit, a Shelby Cobra 3D printed car was highlighted as an example of the changing world of manufacturing. The car was printed at the Department of Energy's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL using the BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine.

The BAAM, developed by Cincinnati Incorporated and ORNL, is the machine used to print out the "Strati", world's first production 3D printed car. Almost a year ago, ORNL and Local Motors signed a new partnership to develop and deliver technology to produce 3D printed vehicle. Using a combination of material science and cutting-edge advanced manufacturing techniques, the BAMM machine was able to print out the Strati in 44 hours during the six-day International Manufacturing Technology Show 2014 in Detroit, Michigan last September.

ORNL's newly printed 3D car uses the Shelby Cobra design for celebrating the 50th anniversary of this model and honoring the first vehicle to be voted a national monument. The Shelby is also intended as a "plug-n-play" laboratory on wheels, says ORNL.

The Shelby was built with a team of six people in just six weeks. According to ORNL, it was 3D printed with advanced composites that cut its weight in half while improving performance and safety. A Clinton, Tenn.-based company called Techmer produced the composite materials. Another local company called Tru-Design developed the surface finishing techniques. The vehicle is motor powered by wide-bandgap power electronics that are more efficient and less expensive than traditional silicon technologies and can be charged wirelessly.

"A lot of prep work went into all the printed parts to give them a nice finish and to ensure that they would fit together cleanly on the car," said Alex Roschli, one of the UT student interns who are doing internships at ORNL. Roschli worked on printing and assembling components of the car and fitting them with the body, while another UT student Andrew Messing developed the software that tells the printer how to make various parts.

"It was quite an effort. It was awesome getting to see the Cobra come to life."

For ORNL, the Shelby will allow them to test and enhance research and development of integrated components in real time, improving the use of digital manufacturing solutions in the automotive industry.

As Lonnie Love, ORNL group leader explained,"Are we going to be printing cars in the near future? The answer is, I don't know. It is highly unlikely in my life time we are going to see mass produced, 3D printed vehicles."

"But the way we make prototype cars today is exactly the same way they made in 30~40 years ago, which is clay models."

"What we are showing is we can go well beyond that now. You can go and print out a working prototype vehicle in weeks, in days, and drive through the streets and look at people's involvement, look at people's excitement. You can test it for form, fit and function so your ability to innovate quickly has radically changed. I think there is a whole industry that can be build up around rapid innovation within transportation, and that again is revolutionary."

Their 3D printed Shelby Cobra weighs half as much as the 1960s original but is just as strong.

Image: AFP

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden viewed the 3D-printed Shelby Cobra and was very impressed with the quality of the entire 3D printed Shelby Cobra project.

"So Joe and I just watched how these folks develop the composites here at Techmer." Obama said. "That was cool. We lost Joe's attention when we laid eyes on that 3D-printed sports car, the carbon fiber Cobra. Biden started pulling out his aviator glasses, and we had to explain to him, you don't get to drive on this trip."

ORNL's 3-D printed Shelby Cobra will be on display along with many of their innovations at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, January 12-15, 2015.

Check out the videos below showing the printing, building and painting process of the 3D printed Shelby Cobra replica.

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