The dream of an entire 3D-printed electric car is somewhere off in the future, but 3D printing has been steadily worming its way into the auto parts field. Everyone is elbowing for a piece of the action, including Canadian auto parts suppliers. They are looking to break out of the pack with Project Arrow, a new electric car featuring a chassis fully functional 3D-printed chassis.
Project Arrow is a concept car, but more likely than not some of those parts will end up in your next electric car as the global auto industry pivots into new technology.
The 3D-Printed Electric Car Of The Future Is Coming, From Canada
Canada is unlikely to be the first country to pop up in a conversation about electric car parts or 3D printing, but Project Arrow could change that.
The new electric car is a concept showcase for the Canadian trade organization, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association. They launched the program in the summer of 2020 with a design competition, focusing on parts from Canadian companies.
Project Arrow moved along at a rapid clip last year with plans for an official unveiling at CES 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada, and all is going according to plan. According to various reports the finishing touches were still being applied into December, but the fully functional, driveable electric car will be ready for display at CES on January 5, sporting a 3D-printed chassis from the proudly Canadian company Xaba,
A 3D-Printed Chassis For A More Sustainable Electric Car
CleanTechnica was reminded of the all-Canadian angle by a representative from Xaba, who reached out by email with a reminder that Project Arrow is “the first car to be made from all-Canadian intellectual property.”
“The material used and the production process also makes it the first-ever fully sustainable vehicle, from manufacturing to operation,” they added.
In terms of 3D printing specifically, the sustainability factor can vary depending on the material being extruded, the energy consumed during the process, and where the final product is used.
In the automotive field, 3D-printed parts can help improve fuel efficiency or battery range by reducing weight, compared to traditional parts. They can also deploy more sustainable materials, including recycled materials.
Manufacturers are beginning to pay more attention to the environmental impact of their supply chains, and 3D printing innovators have been paying more attention, too. Printed parts are becoming common in the automotive field as well as concentrating solar systems, wind turbines, bicycle frames, and batteries, among other applications.
Here Come The (Empowered) Robots
Xaba is among the innovators to pay attention. The company takes note of a “need to drive more sustainability in manufacturing by eliminating the waste resulting from human errors, inaccuracies in manufacturing, and by enabling the use of more sustainable materials.”
Xaba’s contribution to the field is a high-precision, industrial robot-enabled 3D system it calls the Xaba Intelligent Machine. The system deploys robots that are commonly used in industry today, enhanced by a patented control system.
“Xaba empowers these smart machines to automatically optimize, adjust, or change manufacturing design flow to address any constraints, which in turn supports manufacturing processes using novel methods and materials,” the company explains.
“It is a configurable commercial control system based on FPGA (field-programmable gate array) technology and incorporates deep learning, while using proprietary data ontology to harness all the meaningful data in the system’s neural network,” Xaba elaborates, referring to the manufacture of integrated circuits that can be configured by a customer.
Let’s also assume they mean ontology as in a system of classification, though the metaphysical alternative would be interesting as well.
The Long Road To A 3D-Printed Electric Car
Another sustainability aspect of 3D printing is the potential for down-scaling and decentralizing industrial facilities. All else being equal, networks of smaller 3D printing factories could be established within existing buildings or brownfields, rather than destroying greenfields with giga-scale construction projects. The benefits could also include reduced emissions related to shipping and transportation.
The combination of 3D printing and localized production crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2015, when the Energy Department’s ARPA-E funding office showcased a 3D-printed electric car under development by the EV startup Local Motors, as part of the Energy Department’s LITECAR (LIghtweighting Technologies Enabling Comprehensive Automotive Redesign) challenge.
CleanTechnica got a look at the printer setup during a trade show, and the whole thing took up the equivalent of a large parking space.
“This unusual auto manufacturer specializes in collaborative open source design, microfactories, and 3D printing, and we took note when the company kicked off 2015 by hooking up with the US Energy Department for a new lightweight design challenge,” we observed.
“What we didn’t note was this other challenge launched by Local Motors, which could put you behind the wheel of a fully customized 3D-printed car some time next year,” we added.
Well, that was a little over-optimistic. By 2019, Local Motors was in position to produce an autonomous electric shuttle called Olli, but the company unexpectedly shut down in January of 2022, as confirmed by the news organization 3D Printing Media.
Next Steps For Project Arrow
Despite its demise, Local Motors is credited with showcasing 3D printing for the auto industry, and now Project Arrow is demonstrating a new level of sophistication in the field.
Project Arrow is also demonstrating a deep and growing upswell of interest in electric vehicles throughout the supply chain.
The Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association staged a sneak peek of the new electric car at Pfaff Autoworks in Markham, Ontario on December 20, and they also disclosed the Project Arrow supplier list. The roster of several dozen suppliers was winnowed down from a list of more than 200 qualifying Canadian companies, out of 534 companies that originally expressed interest in the project.
Automotive News Canada got the scoop on the supply chain details.
“The vehicle features components from nearly 60 Canadian suppliers,” wrote ANC reporter David Kennedy, “From Quebec wheel manufacturer Fastco Canada, to battery supplier VoltaXplore, a joint venture between Martinrea International Inc. and graphene company NanoXplore.”
“A suite of software companies, such as software bill of materials provider Cybeats Technologies Inc. are also among those represented on the Arrow, which is designed as the first vehicle with ‘complete supply chain transparency,’” Kennedy noted.
In the interests of transparency, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association also disclosed that just one part was made outside of Canada. The organization searched for a domestic screen supplier and came up empty. They settled on Lenovo, which supplied the screen through a partnership with Ontario Tech University, which is also the primary academic partner for Project Arrow.
Next steps include a two-year global tour after display at CES 2023, with the aim of bringing attention to Canadian auto parts suppliers. According to Kennedy’s reporting, industry stakeholders have also raised the possibility of a production model to follow, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Photo: Project Arrow EV with fully 3D-printed chassis (courtesy of Project Arrow).
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