Divergent 3D slices forward with automotive 3D printing

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The Divergent 3D Blade at the 2016 LA Auto Show(Credit: C.C. Weiss/New Atlas)

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Back in July 2015, we took a look at the Divergent 3D Blade, the world's first 3D-printed supercar. More than just a car, the Blade represented a paradigm shift in auto manufacturing ... and we really weren't all that sure we'd hear about it again. Well, we have. Divergent 3D has now branched out into motorcycles and is pressing forward with its 3D printing auto-making revolution at the LA Auto Show.

Divergent 3D has been rather busy since we looked at it last year. Over the course of 2016, it's taken home a North American Technology Innovation Award from research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan and announced partnerships with PSA Group (Peugeot) and global engineering and research firm Altran. So, instead of mere utopian promises, Divergent now has some name-brand recognition and collaboration to point to.

As it explains in a September 2016 announcement, PSA Group will explore implementing Divergent 3D's proprietary 3D printing tech with a view towards becoming a global leader in efficient automotive manufacturing. The strategic partnership will pursue several joint development projects.

"We're convinced that these spectacular advances in 3D printing will help position PSA Group as a leader in automobile manufacturing," said Carlos Tavares, chairman of the Managing Board PSA Group. "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."

We looked more closely at Divergent's software-hardware 3D printing platform in our original article, but the short of it is that it relies on 3D-printed aluminum connectors (nodes) to hold carbon fiber structural components together. Divergent explains that this type of construction will eliminate the reliance on large factories filled with expensive heavy metal tooling, thereby drastically reducing the environmental footprint of auto manufacturing, which it identifies as much larger than the tailpipe footprint.

The chassis it's showing in LA looks light years more advanced than the chassis revealed last year and includes a combination of 3D-printed aluminum, extruded aluminum and carbon fiber components. The chassis was built entirely without hard metal tooling and its components selected for an optimization of weight and strength.

"The Model T of the 20th century was all about mass production," Divergent CEO Kevin Czinger explained at the company's LA press conference last week. "The Model T and the cars of the 21st century are going to be all about volume customization. We're going to be able to move auto manufacturing from massive, one-size-fits-all factories to smaller, localized factories that can produce very profitable vehicles, with very high functionality, with very fast cycle times, and a much reduced impact on the environment."

It can't be easy to encapsulate all Divergent wants to do in digestible, 20-minute press conference form, and while the chassis was interesting to look at, it didn't quite have immediate, attention-grabbing presence. What does have that presence is a flashy supercar prototype. So Divergent also pulled the cloth off a new version of the Blade supercar, which looks largely the same as last year, save for a vibrant new paint job that absolutely popped in the radiant light of its LA booth.

Divergent didn't detail any new specs for the Blade at the press conference, and the engine of record on its website is still the 700-hp bi-fuel turbo four-cylinder it spoke of last year. The company has backed off of its two-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) claims, now listing a more believable but still-super-quick 2.5-second estimate.

Divergent 3D's technology can't make much of an impact by targeting low-volume, exotic supercar manufacturing and that's not really what it's all about. PSA, in turn, isn't pursuing it to pump out a production Peugeot Vision GT or DS E-Tense.

According to Czinger, when applied to a five-passenger sedan, 3D printing technology can cut out 75 percent of structural components and 50 percent of the structural weight while making that structure stronger. He also says Divergent's manufacturing techniques will cost a fraction to implement as compared to traditional metal stamping and tooling.

We're still not sure if Divergent 3D will have the dramatic, wide-sweeping impact on the auto manufacturing industry it is aiming for, but we are impressed with the strides it's made since last year. We look forward to reporting more about its 3D-printing manufacturing technology in the future and the cars that come to life from it.

In the meantime, you can look more at Divergent's new purple asphalt-eater and the chassis that resides below in our gallery.

Source: Divergent 3D

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