3D printing technology is allowing the next generation of industrial designers to set some amazing and realistic goals.

A novel material forming technique called Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is allowing researchers at the University of Nottingham to form complex industrial parts in ways never before possible.

They use a high-powered laser and selectively melt aluminum alloy powder, and layer by layer extremely complex lattice structures can be formed.

This research is part of the Functional Lattices for Automotive Components (FLAC) project, which is bringing complex lattice structures to automotive engineering. Their goal is to reduce the weight of components by as much as 80% while at the same time delivering a much quieter car.

Lattices are much better at sucking up sounds than traditional auto parts.

In addition to the huge gain in fuel or battery efficiency, the SLM manufacturing process will almost eliminate metal waste, and remove heavy machinery, with all of its lubricating oils and associated waste from the production of auto components.

There is no theoretical downside to SLM, but in the near-term due to the relative cost of the process, it is likely to be used for ultra-high end motor-sports applications or other similar markets.

Of course over time, as SLM becomes more widely accepted, and the cost savings are realized by manufactures, the efficiency of vehicles will improve, and we will be using far less power to accomplish the same amount of work.

In addition to that, we will use much less material to make parts that are of a far superior quality, and can be easily recycled when damaged or worn out.

The FLAC project sees other applications for these materials, such as brake calipers, heat sinks for LED headlights and power train sub-systems.

They estimate that the current carbon dioxide savings for the use of these SLM parts to be 16.97g/km, and for a technology that is essentially in its research phase that is outstanding.

[via eurekalert]

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