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January 22, 2015

The debut of a 3D printed car, an EV version of the 50th anniversary Shelby Cobra, this week at the Detroit Auto Show is a big win for manufacturing innovation. Accelerating innovation is about meeting big technical challenges and addressing the challenge in a short time frame. Developing new manufacturing technology to design, print, construct and display the Shelby Cobra is a great example of what can be achieved by a team.

Several decades ago, President Kennedy challenged the American people to be the first to walk on the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard. Speaking about innovation hubs with a similar voice, President Obama said, “Places like this are who we are. We create. We innovate. We build. We do it together.”

The Detroit Auto Show debut of the 3D printed Shelby Cobra signals a great time to talk about how important collaboration is to the pursuit of innovation. AMO supports the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Critical Materials Institute led by Ames National Lab, Power America at North Carolina State University, the newly announced Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and the expected addition of another Institute on Smart Manufacturing in the next year. AMO also contributes to the management of DoD’s America Makes—the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and contributes expertise and resources as needed to DoD’s Lightweight & Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute and the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDII) Institute.

Here’s how working together plays out in the 3D printed Shelby Cobra replica: 

  • The car parts were printed on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, which uses light weight composites and can print parts greater than one cubic meter
  • The vehicle body and structure of this 50th anniversary edition is about half the weight of the ‘original’ 1964 Shelby Cobra
  • The strength per unit weight, which is a significant factor in safety and fuel economy, approaches that of cutting-edge aluminum and is above that of typical steel for automotive structures
  • Stiffness, which leads to handling performance, is higher per unit weight relative to either steel or aluminum
  • Digital large-scale additive manufacturing contributed 500 pounds of printed parts for this 1,400 pound vehicle, 20 percent of which was made from light weight strong carbon fiber
  • BAAM can print component parts 500 to 1000 times faster than today’s commercial 3D printers
  • A working vehicle can be printed and assembled in a matter of days, making it easier to quickly test new prototypes for form, fit, and function, and to conduct ‘plug and play’ experiments with components like wide bandgap power electronics, wireless charging, battery and fuel cell technologies, and mass-scale tooling and production of composite materials.

All together, the Shelby Cobra project is a working “laboratory on wheels” for clean energy manufacturing across more than just the automotive industry—and clearly a winning example of doing it together.

Mark Johnson
Director, Advanced Manufacturing