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  • Date of publication: 31 August 2020
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  • Honey, I reduced the factory! A businessman from the United States produces cars on 3D printers


    How will cars be produced in the 21st century? Entrepreneur Kevin Singer has bet on 3D printing and has already attracted more than $ 90 million of investment

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How will cars be produced in the 21st century? Entrepreneur Kevin Singer has bet on 3D printing and has already attracted more than $ 90 million of investment


Kevin Singer knows firsthand what the so-called rusty belt of America was like in the heyday of industry. A stinky smell, soot from plant pipes and work on vacation, coal shoveling - these are all his own memories of the 1970s when he lived in Cleveland. This city in the north of Ohio was a symbol of the industrial power of the United States - as long as all at once did not collapse.

Now the 58-year-old entrepreneur wants to be involved in the opening of a new era in production and hopes that this will help to withstand his native city and many other cities of America. A new era has already set in on a miniature, supermarket-sized factory located in a concrete and glass building in a business park on the outskirts of Los Angeles. In the lobby of the headquarters of the startup Divergent 3D, founded by Singer five years ago, stands the Dagger - a sporty-looking motorcycle.

And next to it Blade is a glamorous sports car, looking at which you recall scenes from Spielberg's "Special Opinion". Both vehicles are made by Singer with the help of his patented technologies, based on 3D-printing from metal. These technologies are cheaper than traditional production, and not so harm the environment. And they can change the transport industry in the same way as electric and autopilot cars.

Both Blade and Dagger are prototypes, but Singer has already entered into an agreement with the Groupe PSA, the car manufacturer Peugeot and Citroën, for which he must develop several projects in the coming years. Still his factory will do prototypes (small batches) of other test cars - shuttle wagons - for customers whose names Singer does not yet name.


Plant in miniature

His company received in the first round $ 28 million from investors, including Horizons Ventures of Hong Kong billionaire Li Kashin and Altran Technologies, a French consulting firm operating in the automotive market. And in November 2017, Divergent 3D raised $ 65 million, while investors received an option to buy the company's shares for another $ 40 million with the same estimate.

"Traditional car production is fundamentally undermined. You can not constantly expand or reduce your plants to meet all the economic and environmental requirements of this market, "Singer said. According to him, Divergent 3D is on the way to a better future, producing goods the way they should be produced. And the production of the XXI century is not the mega-factories of Detroit and not the "gigafabrika" Ilona Mask, but the associations of small urban factories like the one that belongs to him. Only on them it is possible to produce limited lots of inexpensive low-carbon cars. And only such production will return jobs to the small cities of America.

The cost of building a traditional car factory - from $ 500 million to $ 1 billion, while the depreciation of equipment is many years, so to produce profits, the plant must produce hundreds of thousands of cars a year. Divergent 3D promises to build a production line of 20,000 or more cars per year equipped with printers for 3D-printing from metal, laser cutters and robot-assemblers in a warehouse-type warehouse-all for $ 50,000. Because of low initial investment and production costs, the cost of cars produced on average will be $ 6,700 lower, Singer assures.

Not only did Singer stake on the use of 3D printing technologies for industrial production. Until now, they have been mainly prototypes, but these technologies are developing rapidly, they can "grow" ever larger parts from increasingly diverse materials, including metal powder.

Sales of 3D printers, which are already used in the manufacture of SpaceX rocket motors and giant wind turbines for General Electric, are growing rapidly. Ford Motor does not print its F-150s yet, but uses 3D printers to manufacture factory equipment. HP predicts that these technologies are approaching "distributed production", in which companies can produce themselves what they need when needed and where necessary, says Tim Weber, director of the company's 3D printing department.

"Imagine that you came to a trading platform such as Amazon. You ordered a car. Perhaps it was developed in Lithuania, but it will be done in your city and delivered to you in a couple of days. That's the direction in which everything is moving. So, of course, it will not be immediately, but this is what the fourth industrial revolution looks like. " Professor of the University of Carnegie Mellon Costa Saramos believes that "the use of 3D printing in the industry will break most of the existing production chains now."


New type of production

For example, Singer uses complex metal assemblies printed in 3D as a connective fabric that attaches to a carbon fiber frame with a durable adhesive. The result is a sturdy and lightweight platform, several times cheaper than the traditional punching and welding process. Instead of painting the machine "rolled up" in color scratch-resistant vinyl. Made on this technology cars are much easier and, accordingly, consume less fuel.

Groupe PSA expects that Divergent 3D will help it improve production efficiency, which has become part of a new strategy adopted under the new head of the company Carlos Tavares. In 2016, PSA conducted a semi-annual study that showed that the use of Divergent 3D technologies in the development of SUV cars is revolutionary: development time can be reduced by a year, car weight will be reduced by half, 75% less components are required, plus more changes can be made the course of the matter. "This technology allows us to significantly reduce production capacity and environmental impact, reduce the weight of cars, complicating the design, and we also have almost unlimited flexibility in designing," Tavares said in 2016 after signing an agreement with Singer.

According to Singer, by the end of 2017, Divergent 3D already had development agreements with several companies. If entering Alphabet Waymo or Apple one day decide to design a new autonomous car, Divergent 3D will help them. "We have to work around the world," he adds.


Machine Destroyer

Kevin Singer - atypical candidate for the role of destroyer machines and conveyors. As a child, he played well in American football, which helped him enter Yale, and in 1980 he became a player of the year of the entire Ivy League. After obtaining a diploma in law, he worked in the prosecutor's office until the end of the 1980s, and in the early 1990s he moved to Goldman Sachs and became a banker. He also managed to try himself as the financial director of the later disrupted Webvan product delivery service and in one of the investment firms.

Divergent 3D is not Zinger's first approach to the destruction of automotive production. In 2008, he co-founded the company Coda Automotive, which planned to blow up the electric car market with its Chinese-made sedan. But the moment was chosen unsuccessfully. Just then, Tesla released an elegant Model S, which set new benchmarks for the market.

Coda has burst, but with Divergent 3D can get better. Singer is not going to compete with Tesla or with anyone else in the production of cars. His business model involves the sale of licenses for the use of Divergent 3D technologies to automakers. It seems that the moment was successfully chosen this time. The point is that in large cities transport services appear as an alternative to private vehicles, and the technology of 3D printing will be in demand by manufacturers of low-cost eco-friendly cars for car-racing.

"We can do it at an affordable price with much greater flexibility," Singer said. - This all goes. The sustainability of the environment, the sustainability of the economy depends on diversity. "

The car for Los Angeles may be quite unlike a car for Paris or Shanghai.