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Jim Kor and His Car

October 27, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 07:41

Chances are reasonably good that you have read about the Urbee car. It is the brainchild of Jim Kor, an intriguing individual that I had the privilege of meeting two weeks ago in Winnipeg, Canada. He gripped my attention, from start to finish, as he presented the history of Urbee at a special conference organized by the Industrial Technology Centre of Winnipeg. It was not difficult to notice Jim’s passion for designing what could become the most energy-efficient car on the planet. With a drag coefficient of 0.15, it is quite possibly the most aerodynamic. A third-generation Toyota Prius has a drag coefficient of 0.25.

As a mechanical engineer, Jim designed farm machinery for Winnipeg manufacturers before starting his own firm, KOR Product Design, 30 years ago. Urbee was conceived 15 years ago as Jim’s third vehicle project. Today, a core team of a dozen people make up KOR EcoLogic, a Canadian company that is wholly owned by them, with a goal of getting Urbee into mass production. I was struck by Jim’s obsession with Urbee.

Just days before meeting Jim, he had driven the car some distance as part of an open highway test. The two-passenger vehicle is designed to be exceptionally fuel efficient, safe, and inexpensive. It uses electric motors and is capable of 200 mpg when running on an 8 hp ethanol-powered engine, which serves as a backup. The car is expected to reach 70 mph.

On September 21, 2011, the BBC reported that Urbee had been in development for many years, but its finished 3D-printed body had never been seen in the public. That was true until its unveiling at TEDxWinnipeg a month ago and again two weeks later at the Winnipeg conference. About 100 people in attendance got to see it and two of us were invited to sit in the driver’s seat. With the support of Stratasys, FDM additive manufacturing technology was used to produce the entire body of the car, which looked fantastic. The Urbee team did an outstanding job with the finish of the body.

I truly hope that Jim and his team can secure the investment needed to take the car into production. Urbee deserves a chance in the marketplace and I suspect it will get it. The car has received an impressive amount national and international press, so it may be only a matter of time before the right people come together. Jim’s best-case scenario would make the car available in 2014. The price might be $50,000 in limited production, but it could drop to $10,000 in mass production.

A 3D Printer for Kids

October 15, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,education,entertainment,future — Terry Wohlers @ 08:20

Finally, a 3D printer for children. Well, it’s not yet available, but it’s in the works. Origo, a small startup in Belgium, is in the conceptual phase of product development. The goal: to offer a product that’s attractive to 10-year olds, and to make it as easy to use as an Xbox or Wii. The estimated price of $800 may be a little steep for kids and their parents, but it’s a starting point.

For more than a decade, I’ve sensed that a large market could develop for a very low-cost 3D printer targeted at children. Young people use their imagination to create objects of all types. With so much digital content now available, and a lot more in the works, a 3D printer would be the ultimate device for creative play and entertainment. A recent article published by Singularity Hub said it could be the last toy you’ll need to buy for your child.

In February 2010, I had a short meeting with James Cameron, the producer of Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss, and many other blockbuster films. Knowing that he is a user of 3D printing, I asked him about the idea of an inexpensive 3D printer targeted at children for entertainment. He responded by saying, “Absolutely,” with interest. This is a verbal endorsement that carries some weight.

Indeed a business opportunity is out there for Origo and others to develop and commercialize a safe and simple 21st century ThingMaker for children. A price range of $100-200 has been in my mind, but maybe people would pay more for an elaborate toy that could produce almost any shape.

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details and Origo is faced with many. To reach a level of volume that drives cost and price to a minimum, the effort would require significant investment in engineering, manufacturing, market development, distribution, and support. It’s a giant mountain to climb, but I hope company founders Joris Peels and Autur Tchoukanov, both young men, are able to raise the capital needed to succeed. Peels is a former employee of Shapeways and i.materialise and a contributor to Wohlers Report 2011.

Events this Week

October 1, 2011

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:55

I had the privilege of participating in two special events this week. The first was TCT Live 2011 in England, which began on Tuesday. The event has expanded dramatically since I last attended in 2008 at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. In fact, it outgrew the place and was held this year at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham.

TCT Live now includes many focused but related events under one roof, including MM Live, MEMS Live, and NANO Live. Additive manufacturing, 3D scanning, and CAD occupied the lion’s share of the main exhibit hall. In an adjacent hall, Interplas 2011 ran during the three-day event. My stay was much too short, so I was unable to spend the time TCT Live deserved. What I saw, however, was impressive. Rapid News Publications—the organizers of all five events—did an outstanding job.

By late afternoon on the first day, I was winging my way to Brussels and then on to Lisbon. After a very short night, I was participating in the bi-annual VRAP conference in Leiria, Portugal, which is located about 150 km (93 miles) north of Lisbon. The conference consisted mostly of results and reports from university research in additive manufacturing (AM) from around the world. The technical content was excellent and the event was well organized, thanks to the strong team at Polytechnic Institute of Leiria. Nearly 200 attended from 30 countries. Yet, the conference was small enough to offer special entertainment for the attendees, including dinner at Leiria Castle and spectacular live music in an old church near the center of Leiria.

I appreciate the chance to attend events such as these. They introduce a wealth of new developments, ideas, and perspectives. More than anything, however, I enjoy spending time with friends and meeting new people. After nearly 25 years in the AM and 3D printing industry, I have been fortunate to have met many wonderful people. Some have retired, but most are still going strong. These people are the reason why I treasure each and every opportunity to travel, sometimes great distances, to these interesting places.