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Additive Manufacturing, Fuel Cells & More

Carbon’s CEO talks advanced manufacturing and a Hyundai VP explains the application of hydrogen power for vehicles.
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Joseph DeSimone

Dr. Joseph DeSimone, CEO and co-founder of Carbon. (Image: Carbon)

Dr. Joseph DeSimone was once a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he not only taught, but did a tremendous amount of research that led to such things as the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2008 and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2013. Also in 2013 DeSimone co-founded Carbon, a company that is in the additive manufacturing space, but one that uses a process called “Digital Light Synthesis” which, along with specifically developed polymer resins, combines light and oxygen to create parts that could otherwise not be produced. And it does so at a rate that allows it to be used in production operations by companies like adidas and Riddell—and Ford and Lamborghini.

As DeSimone puts it in this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” “This is where scale happens.”

DeSimone, company CEO, explains that with the Carbon process companies are able to develop functional prototypes without tooling (i.e., the digital design file can be used to run the machine) and then with what is a bona fide part in hand, assuming that it meets the operational requirement, go right to production. Which is both a huge savings in terms of time and money.

Ford part printed by Carbon

This is an HVAC bracket for a 2006 Ford Focus produced by a Carbon machine. This is an example of how parts for out-of-production vehicles can be made through the use of digital files. (Image:Carbon)

While DeSimone says that a considerable amount of Carbon’s market at present is in consumer products (and that they’ve made a breakthrough in that they’re producing dentures: no longer will it be necessary to have eight visits to the dentist to get a precise setup of artificial teeth), the company is making its way into the automotive space at a measured pace; it has been working with Ford for the past few years and Alan Mulally, former Ford CEO, is a member of the Carbon board.

DeSimone talks with Autoline’s John McElroy, automotive reporter for WWJ radio Jeff Gilbert, and me on the show.

And then we have a second guest and a whole new topic.

According to Mike O’Brien, vice president, Product, Corporate & Digital Planning, Hyundai has a powertrain strategy that is essentially predicated on providing the right technology for the right vehicles. The company is in the process of launching its third generation of internal combustion engines, its Smartstream engine, which includes what is said to be a world’s first, “continuously variable valve duration,” or the means by which the duration of the valve opening and closing is predicated on driving conditions; the improvements achieved go-to performance, fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. The company is continuing on its hybrid development, including the plug-in variety. It offers battery electric vehicles both in the form of the IONIQ sedan and the Kona SUV. And it is one of three companies in the U.S.—with the other two being Honda and Toyota—that is offering fuel cell vehicles to the public.

Hyundai fuel cell semi

This is the Hyundai NEPTUNE, a Class 8 concept vehicle that is powered by hydrogen. (Image: Hyundai)

As a transition is made toward reduced emissions on a global level, O’Brien thinks that the battery electric vehicle will find use in passenger vehicles while hydrogen vehicles are exceedingly well suited for bigger vehicles, including Class 8 trucks. To that end, in late October Hyundai introduced its HDC-6 NEPTUNE Concept, a hydrogen-powered Class 8. (Although Hyundai doesn’t offer commercial trucks in the U.S. market—yet—it does in 130 other countries, so the company does have knowledge of this space. As it has been working on fuel cell technology since 1998, it has more than a small amount of know-how in this arena, as well.)

(Another interesting aspect of Hyundai’s commitment to what is called the “Hydrogen Economy” is a memorandum of understanding that it signed last June with Saudi Aramco, which is about expanding the supply of hydrogen in both Korea and Saudi Arabia, as well as building out a fueling infrastructure. What’s more, the two companies are also working on expanding the use of carbon fiber, which is a key material for producing hydrogen storage tanks.)

Oh, and the company will also be offering a photovoltaic roof for the 2020 Sonata Hybrid, one with a 205-W total output that actually serves to charge the on-board battery.

And you can see it all here.