Indistinguishable from conventional production vehicles on display, the 3D printed Shelby Cobra celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Detroit Auto Show in early January. Printed at the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Shelby Cobra electric vehicle replica is showcasing the enormous potential of additive manufacturing. The Shelby, intended as a “plug-n-play” laboratory, will allow research and development of integrated components and manufacturing process technologies to be tested in real time, improving the use of clean energy digital manufacturing solutions across more than just the automotive industry.

This innovative 3D printing process took just six weeks, and the final result was a glistening roadster fitted with a 100-kilowatt electric motor that can still go zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds. The chassis and bodywork for the Cobra were printed with carbon fiber reinforced polymers while the motor, drivetrain, and wheels were selected and integrated together using cutting-edge technology.

The replica car was printed within six weeks, using 20% carbon fiber reinforced ABS material and has a Class A surface finish. The Shelby’s chassis is printed from the bottom up, and customized 3D printed tools allowed for a curved, lightweight composite hood. Currently, creating a vehicle prototype involves months of lead-time for production, large amounts of material processing energy, and a significant cost to turn aluminum and steel into forms for creating specific car parts. By using 3D printing technology, the energy required to print these highly customized cars is dramatically reduced, as is the associated manufacturing time. Additionally, when compared to vehicles that are currently manufactured, the Shelby has less than 70 parts and weighs only 1,600 pounds, whereas today’s vehicles have up to 20,000 parts.  Bottom line the auto industry could save energy and time with additive manufacturing.

The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) partners with industry, small business, universities, and other stakeholders to identify and invest in emerging technologies with the potential to create high-quality domestic manufacturing jobs and enhance the global competitiveness of the United States.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.