Peugeot to Investigate 3D Printed Car Chassis

Peugeot's makers PSA Group are partnering with Divergent 3D, US inventors of a radically different way to 3D print and assemble automobile chassis in volume.

Unveiled last year, the Blade supercar is a technology demonstrator for a radically different way to 3D print and assemble automobile chassis in volume. Now Divergent 3D, US inventors of that method, is partnering with French companies PSA Group, makers of Peugeot, and Altran, a leading engineering R&D firm, to apply the technology.

Divergent, 3D Printing, Peugeot
(Source: Divergent 3D)

PSA Group says using Divergent 3D's technology in its manufacturing processes will help achieve its goal of leading the way to more efficient automotive manufacturing. The company has signed a Strategic Partnership Letter of Intent targeting several joint development projects with Divergent 3D and intends to develop a long-term relationship. The partnership will "transform the design and manufacture of overall vehicle structures with the objective of building lighter, structurally safe, more cost- efficient, and environmentally responsible automobiles," the company said in a statement.

The software-hardware Divergent Manufacturing Platform can produce 3D-printed car chassis much cheaper by reducing upfront capital costs for hard metal tooling and stamping equipment, plus associated factory costs, by up to 10 times or more. It reduces the structural weight of a standard five-passenger car by more than 50%, and parts counts by 75%, Divergent 3D founder and CEO Kevin Czinger told Design News.

Divergent, 3D Printing, Peugeot
(Source: Divergent 3D)

The technology combines 3D-printed aluminum nodes, or connectors, made using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) with an assembly method that looks a bit like LEGOs. Laser-cut tubes made of carbon fiber are assembled with the nodes -- by hand, in minutes -- to form a very strong, very light structure. DMLS is used to produce both metal nodes and molds for non-metallic parts. The metal nodes alone are made of aluminum powder 4046, also called high-silicon aluminum, said Czinger. "Used the way that we do it, this material will outperform the standard T6 cast aluminum." Nodes made with the material are 10% to 15% lighter than T6, but with equal stiffness.

Car manufacturing, especially of electric cars, is not only expensive but also highly polluting, Czinger said. On the other hand, "you don't want to use 3D printing for making very large structures, like entire chassis: it takes too long." Instead, the chassis structure made with his method deals with the capital-intensive problems, the pollution problems, and the product cycle problems of the auto industry.

Divergent, 3D Printing, Peugeot
(Source: Divergent 3D)

"We use 3D printing to create those connectors with low-cost aluminum extrusion plus lightweight, aerospace-grade carbon fiber that's also low cost because we're using already characterized carbon fiber structural pieces, versus wet layup methods," said Czinger. "Then we assemble those modular structures so you don't need any welding or fixturing, and do this precisely. The assembly platform can be used across a broad range of car models. It's non-design-specific, so there's no reprogramming or refixturing required. Any design change is merely a software change instead of a tooling change."

This method will lower what has been a very high cost of entry to becoming a carmaker, because of the high upfront cost of capital equipment, said Czinger. "We showed PSA Group that with this method, we could outperfom the current structural materials used in the car industry."

Carlos Tavares, chairman of the managing board of PSA Group, said, "This has the potential to dramatically scale down the size and scope of our manufacturing footprint, reduce overall vehicle weight and build complexity, while also giving us almost limitless flexibility in design output. We are talking about a radical change for our industry." PSA group's three car brands are Peugeot, Citroën, and DS.

Altran says it will "provide support to accelerate implementation and licensing of its manufacturing technology platform across the continent as part of Altran’s new vehicle architecture initiatives." The firm has made a minority equity investment in Divergent 3D and will work with that company internationally as a strategic development partner, bringing its extensive relationships in the automotive and other industries. It is experienced in several industrial sectors, including automotive, aerospace, defense, and energy.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

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