Lawn­mower shows way for 3D cars

Unique, once-off ve­hi­cles in­stead of mass pro­duced cars for fu­ture petrol­heads

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN On 3D Print­ing

IN 2013, I put my head on the block with a sci-fi pre­dic­tion that our chil­dren’s chil­dren will not buy mass-pro­duced cars like we all do.

In­stead, those few grand­kids who are petrol­heads will just or­der the four el­e­ments to as­sem­ble their own unique ve­hi­cle. Th­ese will be:

• A roll cage with the re­quired space;

• a nav­i­ga­tion/steer­ing sys­tem to suit their bud­get;

• a power source that will range from hub-wheel mo­tors to tiny ro­tary petrol en­gines; and

• be­spoke wheels and pan­els to glue, bolt or snap on to the roll cage to make the cars as in­di­vid­ual as each per­son.

While the low oil price casts doubts on my fu­tur­o­logic abil­i­ties (I pre­dicted pol­i­tics will see us pay R14/litre this year), Jan­uary did see three more tiny steps to­wards my sci-fi fu­ture for cars.

The first was the roll cage which Arial has de­signed for its new Atom No­mad. In shape it fol­lows the lines of the crash cage which Yamaha has adapted for Dur­ban old-boy Gor­don Mur­ray’s City Car.

The sec­ond is Spi­ras4You trikes, whose foam-clad ve­hi­cles the Chi­nese company is ex­hibit­ing in Detroit next week. (Read more about th­ese float­ing, arse-end-park­ing trikes overleaf).

The third step was an unas­sum­ing, but his­toric lawn­mower. This is the world’s first 3D-printed lawn­mower, pro­duced in Kemp­ton Park by en­gi­neer­ing in­ven­tor Hans Fouche.

Fouche is bet­ter known for his 3D-printed cho­co­lates, but as a re­tired For­mula 1 chief aero­dy­nam­i­cist, he had shaped the foils of among oth­ers the Lola and Brab­ham cars. He agrees whole­heart­edly with my pre­dic­tion of our fu­ture roads see­ing more unique cars.

Fouche told Wheels he is a 3D-print­ing pi­o­neer, hav­ing used su­per-glue and com­pressed air to print parts for wind tun­nel test­ing in the 1980s. “We called it rapid pro­to­typ­ing back then.”

Asked how far into the fu­ture he thought 3D-printed cars were, he cited the car which U.S. de­sign stu­dio Lo­cal Mo­tors had 3D-printed and driven since Septem­ber last year, adding he could start 3D-print­ing such a car to­day, us­ing the large 3D printer he has built in his garage. “All we need is a spon­sor.”

To show the speed and strength of his print­ing, Fouche had 3D-printed the wheels and body of a lawn­mower — which he called the Chee­tah — in nine hours. He has since bolted the mo­tor and han­dles of his elec­tric mower onto the still-un­fin­ished reams of ex­truded plas­tic and used it to trim the grass in his back­yard.

While the tech­nol­ogy al­ready al­lows 3D-printed cars, Fouche cau­tions 3D-print­ing can­not yet com­pete with the low unit costs of mass pro­duc­tion.

De­spite his mod­i­fi­ca­tions to a Rap­man 3D printer, which en­ables him to melt and ex­trude plas­tic gran­ules through a 3 mm noz­zle to print a one-me­tre cube 10 times cheaper than a nor­mal desk 3D-printer can, his Chee­tah lawn­mower will still cost over R116 000.

Which is why, be­tween dab­bling with the fu­ture on his lawn, Fouche fo­cuses on churn­ing out unique choco­late pieces in his company Fouche Cho­co­lates, in­clud­ing very tasty NGK spark­plugs made from Bel­gium choco­late. (More on that on fouche­choco­lates.co.za)

PHO­TOS: SUP­PLIED

At over R116 000, this is South Africa’s most ex­pen­sive lawn­mower, 3D-printed by en­gi­neer­ing in­ven­tor Hans Fouche (in­set).

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