Automobiles are so much a part of the American life style; we race them, work in them, collect them, go for scenic drives in them—we spend so much time in our automobiles, we even give them names. Cars are definitely more than just a way to get from point A to point B.
One company fueling that passion for cars is Ai Design. The engineers here design, engineer and build custom interior and exterior features to create highly personalized luxury vehicles. Ai takes a customer’s vision for what their ideal vehicle would look like and how it would function, and makes it a reality.
A challenge fit for 3D printing
Each luxury vehicle has unique engineering and design, from the engine to the interior, which poses a challenge for creating new, custom features. Ai has to design and build around complex geometries and shapes to integrate parts that look and feel like they were a part of the original design. “No two customer parts are the exact same. Even if we’re working on the same model, make and year, the geometries can differ,” said Todd Henderson, director of sales and marketing for Ai Design.
Three years ago Ai Design decided to move from making unique parts using traditional methods, such as CNC machining and even by hand, to 3D printing through RedEye. Producing quality parts needed to easily integrate with complex interiors by hand took countless hours and CNC machining delivery times were dependent on the shop’s backlog. The engineers couldn’t consider injection molding because it would be impossible to amortize tooling costs for one-off parts. 3D printing was the only solution that would not only reduce lead times but also give them more freedom to design and build parts compatible with complex geometries.
The engineers tested various 3D printing technologies and service bureaus before deciding on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). FDM met the requirement of using real, engineering-grade thermoplastics that are compatible with a variety of critical post processes, such as sanding, priming and painting.
Since then, RedEye has built a variety of parts for Ai Design, shortening development time—in some cases by weeks—and reducing costs on one-off parts by up to 40%.
One of the company’s clients wanted to integrate an iPad Mini into a Land Rover Defender 110. They first 3D scanned the interior dash and iPad to collect the precise geometries to fit a new design. Then the engineers designed a CAD model for the new center dash, which effectively locks the iPad into position, charges and ejects the device. The ABS plastic parts were 3D printed, sanded and painted at RedEye.
The engineering team incorporated a radar pod into the Ferrari FF interior, which has limited room for added features. The team found an effective location for the radar system, 3D scanned and measured the geometries, and designed a custom housing for the radar pod. RedEye 3D printed, sanded and primed the plastic part to the exact dimensions of the Ferrari interior.
Another client wanted to incorporate Dynaudio Esotar tweeter pods (speakers) into the doors of a Range Rover HSE. The engineering team designed and fitted speakers to the doorframe and developed custom acoustic grills in CAD. RedEye 3D printed the ABS-M30 grills to exact dimensions and tolerances. “The speaker grills would have been nearly impossible to make using other methods due to tolerances,” said Henderson.
Another customer wanted to create a tech docking hub with audio controls in the back seat of a Cadillac Escalade. Not only did the project involve heavy wiring and audiovisual configuration by the Ai team, it also required plastic parts compatible with the new electronic components. RedEye built the iPhone and iPad holding structures in ABS-M30 using FDM and the faceplate that houses necessary wiring and control modules in Digital ABS using PolyJet technology.
This is just one example of how additive manufacturing is enabling new business models and customized design.