Maybe you’re walking down the street. The middle of the street. You can, because they are empty while people charge their electric cars. Suddenly… WHAM! Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go rings in your ears as you lift your body off the pavement. You’ve just been hit by an Urbee. “I’ve just been hit by an Urbee,” you say. You would file a hit and run report, except you feel honored that your hip-bone has been slightly fractured by its 3D printed exterior. You recall 3D printed architecture, but this, this was a car.

Jim Kor, owner of Kor Product Design and professional engineer, has a special place in his own hip-bone for the Urbee. He’s the Project lead and Senior Designer on the team creating the hybrid three-wheel, rear-engine car. We caught up with him over email to find out a little more behind the process of being one of the first to attempt using 3D printers in the process of manufacturing a car. Here’s the story.

Jim with the scale model and 3D printed portions of the Urbee
Jim with the scale model and 3D printed portions of the Urbee

(SolidSmack)What was the inspiration behind using 3D printing for the car?
(Jim Kor)Inspiration was the following – we felt we needed to follow this necessary sequential process (in order to achieve an aerodynamic body that had stunning looks as well). First, we sculptured the body in clay. Expensive automotive clay. In the real world, we could see it and touch the shapes, live with it for a while, add and subtract as we needed and really get to know it until it was correct. This took 3 months.

It was actually just a half model (split down the middle, as the other side would be mirror image). A real mirror placed down centre let us visualize entire shape. The clay model was 60% actual size, but still a big model. Then we needed to get this clay shape in the computer. Tebis in Detroit scanned it for us and cleaned up the computer model after mirroring it. Now, the shape was in the computer as a CAD model. To verify aerodynamics, CD-Adapco ran simulations for us in the computer. Results proved excellent, plus easier to visualize than a wind tunnel with the ability to see the airflows – fantastic software. We attained a Cd value of 0.15 as we had estimated – great result. Then we turned the computer shell into body panels and glass panels, all in the 3D software.

Then we approached Stratasys. We had this aerodynamic car in the computer and needed to get it out into the real world. We wondered if they could 3D print these panels. They’re the only company we were aware of that could do these big panels. They could do it. Amazing. We did a 1/6th scale model first to verify that body panels were all correct and everything would fit. The model was printed and was perfect. So, the files were good. Go-ahead was given. Full scale panels were printed successfully.

(SS) What programs do you use in the 3D design and engineering of the car?
(JK) We used Autodesk Inventor Pro and Autodesk Alias.

(SS) What type of 3D printer and material do you use to print the car?
(JK) Parts were made on the Dimension 3D Printers and Fortus 3D Production Systems. The material we selected was ABS plastic.

(SS) I imagine the development process was quite involved. How many designs and printing iterations did you have to go through to achieve the desired results?
(JK) As described in the first question, it was an amazingly smooth process to make these parts. Minimal waste occurred. It is all very innovative and the quality of parts is great. The fit and finish is excellent.

(SS) What is the biggest challenge of using this manufacturing process to create a car?
(JK) Because of the newness of what we were trying, on the first body we were focused on just getting a shell out into the real world. We did add some bracing to the inside, for stiffness. As designers, on subsequent parts, we plan to exploit the potential of this process further. We plan to design parts specific to this exact 3D printing process. In that regard, we feel we are just touching the surface with this first car body. With more attention to each part’s exact design, we feel this should improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and the number of features integrated within the part (parts can include many features, an outside surface, an inside surface, ducting, light pockets, etc. etc.). This process really opens up design potential for the car body, as well as parts in general.

(SS) Some would say you are innovating the field of 3D Printing. Are there people in the 3D printing industry that stand out to you as innovators?
(JK) Stratasys is highly innovative in this field of 3D printing. That they design and manufacture their own 3D printing machines makes it even easier to work with them. They have excellent people and are an exceptionally talented group that I find a pleasure to work with.

Jim and the Urbee project team behind the Urbee frame.
Jim and the Urbee project team behind the Urbee frame.

Just imagine these vehicles buzzing around the parking lots in the next couple years. 3D printed, charges and ready to take you Urb’ing around. Jim Kor and the Urbee team continue to push the development of the car. Plans for 2011 include finishing the first Urbee prototype and attending SEMA2011 Las Vegas in November. The Urbee project is being funded by volunteers. You can donate and keep apprised on the eco car creation on the Urbee site.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.