“Take Materials Science 101. You won’t regret it.”

By Nergis Firtina

Newly 3D printed metal could be used by Tesla to produce all-electric vehicles with just a few massive parts, thanks to two MIT students. 

Announced very recently, the new sort of steel was created by MIT undergraduates and their graduate student mentor in Germany, not for the construction of the cars but for the die-casting molds that stamp them out in just a few distinct pieces.

MIT junior Ian Chen and Kyle Markland managed to produce a 3D-printable steel alloy inspired by a manufacturing approach called Giga-casting, popularized by carmaker Tesla and used to assemble the all-electric Model Y.

Chen and Markland’s project is inspired by Gregory Olson, the Thermo-Calc Professor of Practice at MIT, who teaches Computational Materials Design.

Olson is a world-renowned expert in computational materials science, which employs computer modeling and simulation to understand and design new materials. His methodology was used by Apple to develop the Apple Watch, and it piqued the interest of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

“Why not scale it up?”

“To get affordable electrical cars with good range, he had to make aluminum structures affordable,” says Olson, speaking of Musk.

“So he looked at the kind of die casting for little car models and said, ‘Why not scale it up? We’ll cast the whole car.’”

Olson’s computational approach was used by Tesla for the aluminum that could be die cast — the metal casting process in which molten metal is poured into a mold to form objects. 

Cars are typically constructed from hundreds of die-cast parts, such as engine cylinders, brackets, and other components, which are then assembled on an automated assembly line to form a vehicle. Instead, the Giga-casting process — named after the massive casting machines known as Giga Press — involves casting only two or three large automobile pieces, significantly reducing the process’s complexity and associated costs.

“This project has pushed me toward a more computationally driven materials area,” Chen says, “where computational models are used as a critical tool for materials design and analysis.”

“It feels great to have our work recognized by ASM,” Kyle Markland added. “Sometimes classwork can feel abstract or removed from the real world, and it’s a refreshing reminder that the project we did has recognition beyond just a class assignment.”

Via InterestingEngineering.com