Making a 3D-printed Vehicle Frame Model

Making a 3D-printed Vehicle Frame Model

How we Made a Custom Auto Manufacturing Model for ArcelorMittal

How we Made a Custom Auto Manufacturing Model for ArcelorMittal​

Table of Contents

Commissioning a Custom Vehicle Frame Replica Model for Trade Shows

Taking a full-size car frame to a trade show can be quite problematic. It would be extremely heavy and too large for most booth sizes. However, ArcelorMittal, a leading steel and mining company, knew that a physical representation of their innovative ‘LWB’ auto frame would garner much more attention than 2D photos or videos. It’s also much easier for the sales representatives to show in person, rather than tell, the unique features in 360 degrees. To solve this, they turned to WhiteClouds to build a more affordable, lighter, and slightly smaller industrial model of their innovative LWB product (as described below) at an automotive conference in Detroit.

Reducing vehicle weight by using lighter solutions is an obvious way to cut emissions, but steel offers unbeatable crash protection. ArcelorMittal Tailored Blanks answers both these demands with innovative solutions.

A laser welded blank (LWB), also known as a tailored blank, is a steel sheet made by welding together different grades of steel. These grades can vary in thickness and coatings, allowing for optimized performance and lightweighting. LWBs are engineered to place the best grade in the optimal location for strength and deformation. They can be hot- or cold-stamped to form the final shape of the part.

LWBs offer tailor-made solutions with significant advantages, especially in automotive construction, where they are commonly used.

Arcelor Mittal 3D-printed Vehicle Frame Model on Trade Show Floor
Final model on display at ArcelorMittal's booth at the first trade show

Starting with a 3D Digital Model

For most models we make, WhiteClouds starts with a 3D digital file. This file could come from the customer, be purchased from an online digital 3D modeling service, or be created from scratch by our in-house designers. Occasionally, our designers have built 3D digital models from nothing but 2D napkin drawings. In this case, a 3D digital file was provided to us, but it was unusable for 3D printing, so our designers used the model as a reference and essentially rebuilt it.

Starting with a 3D digital file is invaluable in physical fabrication because it provides a precise blueprint of the object, ensuring accuracy and consistency in the final product. It allows for easy modifications and iterations, saving time and reducing material waste. Additionally, it facilitates seamless communication and collaboration among designers, engineers, and clients, as the digital model can be easily shared and reviewed. This digital foundation streamlines the entire fabrication process, from design and prototyping to production and quality control, ultimately leading to a more efficient and cost-effective workflow. 

3D digital modeling is highly beneficial for engineering large physical models for optimal strength. It allows engineers to simulate and analyze structural integrity under various conditions, identify potential weaknesses, and make precise adjustments to enhance durability. This technology enables the optimization of material distribution and overall design, ensuring that the final physical model achieves maximum strength and performance while minimizing weight and material usage.

3D-Printing a Vehicle Frame Replica

Once the digital 3D model was built and approved, WhiteClouds set to the task of fabricating the model. For most of our 3D industrial models, our production artisans choose 3D-printing technology to bring it to physical form. After the digital file is created, the printers do all the work with 100% accuracy. A large model is broken down digitally into smaller pieces which are 3D-printed in ultra-fine layers of material, then bonded together and assembled around an internal metal support structure. Sometimes, one model could have well over a hundred separate pieces.

Our largest 3D printed statue to date, standing at around 30 feet tall, took 365 individual pieces. This specific model was just under 70 separate ‘PLA’ pieces and took around 10 days to print with multiple printers running. 3D printing in pieces is more efficient because multiple printers can be used simultaneously in what we call a ‘farm’. We use up to 85 printers currently in our printing farm. Most cost-effective 3D printers on the market also have a relatively small print area so multiple printers are needed to expedite the process.

WhiteClouds uses various materials in 3D printing such as plastic, nylon and resin but for this project we chose PLA filament. PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is a user-friendly thermoplastic with a higher strength and stiffness than both ABS and nylon. It is a recyclable, natural thermoplastic polyester that is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugar cane. With a low melting temperature and minimal warping, PLA is one of the easiest materials to 3D print successfully.

For extra durability, we constructed a metal armature consisting of a metal rod that runs through the thin areas of the frame. We use expanding foam to fill the gaps and provide rigidity. Additionally, we employ proprietary methods to reinforce thin areas, such as the engine bay compartment.

The battery box is designed to be removable, so our team engineered a locking mechanism with tabs that swivel into the model. This allows the customer to swap out the battery box with different types in the future.

Arcelor Mittal Vehicle Frame Digital Model cut up for 3D printing
Digital Model 'cut up' in smaller print areas for 3D printing
3D Printing Farm
By using multiple 3D printers with each printer printing a small piece of the overall model, we are capable of creating projects over 30 feet tall.
3D Printer printing a Topography model
3D Printer printing a Topography model
Arcelor Mittal 3D-printed Vehicle Frame Model In Production
Some of the 3D printed pieces being assembled together using a proprietary process of 'welding' the plastic
Arcelor Mittal 3D-printed Vehicle Frame Model In Production
Showing an almost fully assembled model before it is primed for painting

Painting the Vehicle Replica Model

Once the individual pieces of the model are ‘welded’ together using a special WhiteClouds process, our team works on each seam to make it smooth and ready for paint. Each seam requires 1-3 hours of bodywork, which includes applying epoxy and sanding it multiple times until it is completely smooth. After smoothing, the model is sprayed with a paint primer before the final paint and colors are sprayed.
The next step in painting involved several meticulous stages of blocking off different color sections with tape and then carefully spraying each section. This particular model required seven different solid Pantone colors, matched to specifications using automotive paint. The final step in painting is to add a clear coat that protects the paint and provides a glossy finish.
In addition to the 3D-printed automotive frame model, WhiteClouds also fabricated a custom base with casters. This base served to both raise the model to eye level and act as branded signage for the trade show booth. The casters on the bottom enabled the entire display to be easily moved.

Shipping a massive model

Shipping large custom models is challenging due to their fragility and need for careful handling to avoid damage. At WhiteClouds, our experienced woodworking and shipping team custom builds each crate to meet specific shipping requirements. A wooden crate is constructed to fit the display perfectly, with additional supports added. The display is secured with straps or cushioned with extra foam pieces to minimize movement. Every project requires a unique approach, and so does each shipping method. 

As you can see from the pictures below, the model was a massive success at the first conference in Detroit and will be used in future shows as well. This was a unique project for WhiteClouds, and our team executed it expertly. ArcelorMittal was amazing to work with. If you have a project in mind you think we could help you with, fill out the form below.

Car Frame 3D-Printed Replica Model Completed Image Gallery

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WhiteClouds is a Next-gen 3D fabrication company. We use 3D technologies to fabricate a wide-range of products for businesses and consumers but our key ingredients are innovation, craftsmanship and creativity. Please contact us to see how we can help with your next project by filling out the form below, emailing us at [email protected] or by calling us at 385-206-8700

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