Product Designer Marco Mattia Cristofori from BigRep turned to the custom wheel rim for a development challenge, creating a prototype virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
BigRep, the German mechanical engineering company, is reinventing the wheel, so to speak. Marco Mattia Cristofori, a product designer at the company, wanted to show the viability of the company’s large-format FDM 3D printing technology for industrial use. With this goal in mind, Christofori 3D printed a full-scale custom wheel hub prototype for a car.
In addition to providing a relatable use case for 3D printing in industry, Christofori’s goal was to come up with a striking design. He began by looking at wheel rims and hubcaps for vehicles.
In the US, it’s popular to customize vehicle features. But, it’s expensive and time-consuming to create prototypes of these parts. Cristofori found that with 3D printing, it’s possible to create custom part prototypes quickly and easily. These prototypes can then go under molding and form checks much sooner than normal.
“With 3D printing you can prototype organic forms, like with our Terra chair,” said Cristofori. “It allows you to envision more complex shapes, because you don’t really have any limits.”
Cristofori’s Final 3D Printed Wheel Rim Design
Cristofori’s design has branch-like structures coming from the center of the wheel, providing stability and offering an interesting aesthetic. In doing this, he moved away from having just one layer or line on a wheel rim or hubcap.
Of course, this demonstrates one major benefit of 3D printing – complex geometries are possible – unlike with traditional methods. The wheel was printed on BigRep’s new STUDIO 3D printer using high-temperature-resistant filament PRO HT.
In addition to the stylistic reason of inventive designs, prototyping a wheel rim in such a way brings another benefit. End-use wheel rims must have perfect dimension, so 3D printing can be useful for verifying designs before final production as it’s possible to quickly adjust and change a design to ensure a perfect fit.
“What we’ve developed here is a true-to-life model that can be powder coated,” Cristofori commented, speaking about next steps with the design. “We are planning to Meta-Coat one of them, to see how it looks as a more final product with a highly professional effect.”
Cristofori adds that it’s possible to use the BigRep ONE, with its new Power Extruder to get a similar level of detail. He also recommends printing complex designs with BigRep’s water-soluble support material PVA.
Although Cristofori’s design is not fully functional as a wheel rim, he believes it would be possible to 3D print end-use hubcaps in plastic and coated to achieve a metallic effect.