During a chat at the company’s LA headquarters, founder and CEO Kevin Czinger bemoans the current method of building cars, dubbing it severely outdated and harmful to the planet. He has a point.
This year’s sustainability report from The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed that, despite massive improvements over the past 20 years, there’s still 1.4kg of waste sent to landfill for every vehicle produced. And that’s just here in the UK. The total combined CO2 equivalents of the industry here sits at 997,215 tonnes for the period recorded.
Putting his money where his mouth is, Czinger decided to develop his ridiculously fast 21C hypercar from scratch using proprietary additive manufacturing techniques. This, of course, is neither cheap nor simple. Parent company Divergent 3D has invested years and more than $150 million (£115m) into developing its divergent adaptive production system, or DAPS for short.
This sees automated design and optimisation software, patented additive manufacturing driven processes, high-accuracy automated assembly, and novel performance materials combine for the first time to create a complete car.
Jon Gunner, chief technical officer at the company says: “Additive manufacturing is just one piece of our proprietary technology, but it allows us to eliminate hard tooling. Our DAPS approach automates the engineering and manufacturing of complex structures. We are not limited by tooling and can continually re-engineer and make the most optimal parts for that precise application and location on our 21C hypercar.”
But how does this differ from current car production? Well, today’s mass-production lines rely heavily on tooling. In short, most parts of a new car require a unique tool. Once the design department signs off of a new part, it then goes through feasibility checks and tooling departments, where an appropriate tool to produce said part in large quantities is made.
Of course, very low production hypercars are a very different story, as many components are hand-made from scratch, but even with a heavy reliance on modern materials, such as carbon fibre, most designs have to be finalised, and once they are, it’s very difficult and costly to make changes. The Czinger 21C is different because, according to its makers, this is the first vehicle to feature a full production chassis, which adheres to numerous safety standards, that has been entirely developed and constructed using generative software, 3D printing technology, in-house materials, machines and assembly tech.
So here, if the design team fancied making a change to the very core of its new hypercar, it could make those changes on the fly without adversely affecting cost or introducing time pressures. “I’ve worked for many car companies that pioneered the use of carbon fibre and even those were limited. Once a carbon fibre tub is finalised, that’s it. Any subsequent changes cause big headaches,” explains Gunnar.
“Also important to note, there is far less waste with our methods. We created proprietary materials so we can atomise an old part into powder and recreate another part using that material. We don’t lose much during this process, but use most, if not all, of the original part’s material to create a new one,” he adds.
The brightly lit Czinger HQ is sparse, aside from the attention-grabbing $1.7 million 21C sat in a corner. To the left is a roped-off area that houses a group of robots arranged in a circular formation, rather than the traditional production line used by most of the world’s biggest automakers.
We are instructed to refrain from taking photographs of the robots, especially the technology located at the end of their arms, as this is key to the IP that Czinger has created, one that necessitated filing some 330 patents to cover the production process itself.
It’s a similar story with its secretive additive manufacturing department, which emits a dim, oddly futuristic blue aura and contains a mixture of existing 3D printers from the likes of SLM Solutions and Czinger’s own proprietary technology. Study images and video teasers of the facility closely and you’ll see recognisable names like Kuka, Leica and Nikon have been used and adapted to suit the company’s production strategy.
But according to Czinger, his company is around ten years ahead of anyone in terms of its printer designs, manufacturing assembly layouts and the high-performance metals it uses for parts. Czinger claims it is the only company to print in the nickel-chromium-based superalloy Inconel, for example.
Yet, despite the flexibility to design and print parts on demand, each 21C takes a staggering 3,000 to 4,000 man hours to complete. This, according to Jon Gunnar and his team, is “industry average” when it comes to very low production hyper car production like this, but still undermines the founder’s vision for a faster, more flexible production process.
“We cut time through zero tooling and printing parts, but add that time to make them beautiful,” Gunnar offers.
“The 21C is very much at the extreme end of what we are capable of here. We produce each part using additive manufacturing but then hand-finish each part to be the best and most polished part it can be. Think of this process as the juxtaposition between technology and art. Like the inside of a Swiss watch,” he says.
The seven- to nine-layer paint job takes 1,000 hours to complete alone, while an obsession with using pre-reg, hand-laid carbon for exterior body panels further increases the time taken for completion. If Czinger wasn’t so obsessed with the bleeding-edge of hypercar performance and automotive design it could produce cars much, much quicker.
Though there is no proof yet regarding the Czinger manufacturing method when it comes to saving time, there certainly is when you consider the overall weight of the vehicle. The 21C boasts a dry weight of just under 1,200kg that, with a combined total output of 1,233bhp, gives it a true 1:1 power-to-weight ratio.
A McLaren Speedtail weighs 1,430kg, the LaFerrari tips the scales at 1,585kg and the Koenigsegg Jesko feels a little porky at 1,420kg by comparison. “We only put mass where mass is needed,” says Gunnar. “Think about a tree and the foundations to the ground and then how each branch carries the weight. Some of our parts look like those rooted foundations, supporting the vehicle where it’s needed, reducing weight in the process, and meaning every molecule and kilo is needed.”
To create his new hypercar, Czinger has surrounded himself with former employees of Koenigsegg, Rimac and other major players in the supercar world. And, in a current automotive landscape that relies heavily on cost-saving and component sharing, Gunnar was given freedom to do the opposite and develop an engine in-house. Something that even Pagani shies away from.
This compact twin-turbocharged 2.88-litre V8 petrol unit is mated to two 220kW motors at each front wheel and a 2kW battery pack. It is light and efficient, while the Lithium Titanate battery is designed to charge and discharge much faster than current production EV tech. Plus, a lack of overall heft means the powertrain doesn’t have to boast massive displacement figures. It can be small and efficient.
Early figures suggest the 21C can smash the 0-60mph sprint in 1.9 seconds and go on to a top speed of almost 270mph when the aero package isn’t specified. However, Gunnar’s main objective wasn’t to best rival hypercar makers’ performance figures. Further down the line, he aims to prove the car’s performance in the real world by beating the unofficial Laguna Seca track record for production cars by two seconds. To put that in perspective, the McLaren Senna currently sits at the top of this slightly questionable leaderboard with a claimed 1:27:62 lap.
“Our ‘clean sheet of paper’ approach resulted in an entire powertrain that weighs in at just 460kg, the world’s most power dense engine at 2.88-litres. This was enabled by parts fashioned from additive manufacturing that helped us keep the weight and size of the components down to a minimum,” Gunnar explains.
The 21C’s overall package was very much designed to put this proprietary technology through its paces. An innovative in-line seating formation might have been chosen for optimum aerodynamic performance, a minimal frontal area, a front to rear weight bias and a unique driving position, but it also pushed technicians and Czinger’s production vision.
The team member responsible for the 21C’s impactful look is chief designer David O’Connell, who says his brief of creating something that ‘no one had seen before’ naturally led him to position both the driver and passenger in-line, like a fighter jet cockpit configuration.
However, those with extremely long memories and anorak levels of automotive knowledge will refer to Spanish sports car maker Tramontana and its Tramontana R, which arguably beat Czinger to in-line seating in 2009. The 21C looks aggressive, even when it isn’t moving, and this is down O’Connell’s obsession with all of his lines having purpose: starting and finishing somewhere, rather than randomly bleeding out.
Signs of Czinger’s 3D-printing technology can be seen everywhere, from the exposed, almost skeletal wishbone structures that house the suspension system, to an equally intricate structural bar that crosses from outside of the vehicle, through the cabin and back out the other side.
O’Connell says that the design team deliberately drew attention to these areas that have clearly been designed, procured and assembled using Czinger’s DAPS process. The F1-style steering wheel, for example, is neatly hung on the aforementioned structural bar.
The driver sits behind the wheel in the centre of the car, with large dihedral doors allowing ingress and egress to the cabin. It’s surprisingly easy to get in and out of the extremely low-slung cockpit, although the rear passenger does have a tough time contorting their legs behind that front seat.
“Lots of us here are big fans of motorcycles and that’s what we tried to achieve here, creating a cockpit that replicates the sensation of the driver arriving at a corner at the exact moment the front of the car does,” O’Connell explains.
Drawing admiring gazes towards the beauty of a 3D-printed structure is one thing, but O’Connell brings it back to the subject of weight, claiming the impressive kerb weight would not have been possible if he couldn’t realise his visions so easily through generative design and the company’s ability to print in high-performance alloys of its own invention.
All of the above was supposed to wow crowds at this year’s ill-fated Geneva Motor Show, but the company is confident in its product, despite the coronavirus potentially ruining its five minutes of fame.
For Kevin Czinger, the production methods employed in the 21C are as important as the car itself. He firmly believes that today’s current way of producing vehicles can be “flipped on its head”. Scaling up to something akin to mass production seems a long way off and would require large scale use of more cost-effective materials (plastics as opposed to carbon fibre, steel instead of titanium) and a more time-effective approach to the overall fit and finish of vehicles. There’s no way 3,000 man hours could be invested on something that costs as much as a Porsche 911, for example.
However, the team has revealed that it plans to ‘launch cars with revolutionary technology, dominating performance and iconic design for their class’, not just hypercars. There are no details of these at the moment.
“This is the first instance of using a set of tools that are going to transform the planet. We are unleashing creativity,” Czinger claims. We have heard such claims made before upstarts are forced to adopt manufacturing methods tested over decades in order to scale production. Ask Elon Musk. Only time will tell if the 21C is purely an impressive, low-volume hypercar or really the blueprint for future car production.
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