A Closer Look at the World’s First 3D Printed Titanium Wheels
While many manufacturers are currently dedicating time and money to researching just how much 3D printing can save in costs and efficiency, one study found that 3D printing in the automotive industry has the potential to reduce the cost of developing an entirely new vehicle from $600 million to just $60 million. Various companies have already begun to put this innovative technology to work, and this month saw the realization of it to produce the world’s first titanium wheels. The collaboration between HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive marks the first time that performance wheels have been created using additive manufacturing.
The Process of 3D Printing Titanium Wheels
The process of using a titanium plate and turning it into an impressive supercar wheel is actually fairly easy once it’s explained, leading many in the industry to wonder why it hasn’t been done before. The titanium wheels, which have been named HRE3D+ wheels, are made using a type of 3D printing called electron beam melting. This requires that titanium be melted one layer at a time with electron beams. Pretty high-tech, right? Well, it’s actually part of the functionality of the process as it makes it possible to print shapes that yield more complex results than with traditional CNC machines. While the wheels are currently just prototypes, they are lightweight and functional, with guests at the Formnext trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, where they were debuted, impressed with the design and functionality. Patrick Moran, creative director at HRE Wheels, stated that “The goal behind the partnership between GE Additive and HRE Wheels was to show the capabilities of additive manufacturing in a practical application.”
The Benefits of Titanium in Car Manufacturing
Lightweight and durable, using titanium in car manufacturing is beneficial to consumers as well as producers as it is one of the strongest materials found on Earth. Compared to aluminum, titanium is actually more corrosion resistant and is able to produce stronger car parts such as wheels. The process used to make traditional wheels out of aluminum has been shown to be more time-intensive and puts design limitations on what manufacturers can do, which is evident when comparing the incredibly intricate and impressive design of the titanium wheels produced by HRE Performance Wheels and GE Additive to their traditional aluminum counterparts. Spokespeople from the companies note that not only is this process more efficient, but it’s also more sustainable as well, making these wheels green and sexy. For the production of traditional aluminum wheels, about 80% of the material is removed and wasted. For HRE3D+ titanium wheels, only 5% of the material is removed.
When You Can Expect to See the Wheels on the Market
If all this talk about sustainable, sexy wheels has got you aching to purchase your own set, you’ll be a little disappointed to know that there’s currently no set release date. After debuting at the show in Germany, manufacturers are heading back to the warehouse to continue testing on prototypes. For now, you’ll have to trust that the automotive industry will continue to understand the sustainable benefits of titanium in car design and hope that the technology and design will become more widespread as time goes by.