Students create fully functional car part from 3D printer

Ethan Vermillion, a second-year mechanical engineering student and Gerson Ramos, a second-year graduate electrical engineering student, took on Cal Poly Pomona’s “Learn by Doing” motto by 3D printing individual throttle bodies for Vermillion’s car with their own 3D printer.

Vermillion wanted to be able to put individual throttle bodies on his car and decided to 3D print the part instead of purchasing it. The throttle body is a tube that is used to control the amount of air that enters an engine and will allow Vermillion to optimize the airflow in his car engine.

Vermillion adapted the individual throttle bodies from a motorcycle, specifically a Yamaha R1, because of its bigger engine, and therefore bigger ports.

“There’s some benefits to (having individual throttle bodies) but if you want to go more down the performance road, then you don’t have to merge (the throttle bodies) together, you can keep them individual,” Vermillion said. “Then there’s other benefits where instead of having (the throttle bodies) into one, you can just have them behave separately in a sense.”

The part is made from carbon fiber nylon, one of the 3D printing material options available to Vermillion. The part is adapted from a Yamaha R1 motorcycle.
(Courtesy of Ethan Vermillion)

In total, the setup that Vermillion made for his car amounted to $400. If he were to buy the part from a dealership, he estimated that the price would have ranged from around $1,000 or more. 

“Welders usually charged around $350 to make something like this,” Vermillion said. “In the end, it’s very hard to get the smooth transitions because no one makes a tube that’s an oval and no one makes it from this size to this size (varying the entrance hole and exit hole). It’s not popular. It’s hard to get something that transitions so nice without 3D printing in a sense.”

Vermillion has experience in fixing vehicles as he is part of the Bronco Motorsports club on campus, which is an engineering club dedicated to Formula SAE. Formula SAE is a student design competition organized by SAE International, “a standards developing organization for engineering professionals in various industries,” according to its website. 

The knowledge he has gained in the club helped him in creating the throttle bodies for his car with the help of Ramos. 

It took Vermillion and Ramos three full days to print out the part, with Ramos occasionally working manually to support the part. Because of the way Vermillion designed the part, if Ramos wouldn’t go in to manually fix some parts, the throttle bodies wouldn’t have been able to hold their full weight and would topple over instantly. 

Ramos has access to a 3D printer in his house, which he bought to print things for himself whenever he wanted. The printer cost between $200-$300, which Ramos bought on Amazon.

Ramos also works with Banks Power, an automotive performance company in Azusa that makes air intakes, among other performance parts. At the company, they will often 3D print prototypes of intakes for customers, which sometimes stay in the car. 

According to Ramos, the key to keeping the plastic part inside the car is thickness, heat resistance and also knowing what you’re doing. 

“It’s not hard to do as long as you have the previous knowledge about 3D printing because there’s a lot that goes into it as far as temperatures that you have to set for a specific material, as well as the speeds,” Ramos said. “For this part for example, as far as some support … sometimes you can get away with the software doing it for you, but other times you have to go in there and manually produce the support so the part won’t fall down when it’s printed.”

Vermillion isn’t the first to try this; 3D printing is becoming prominent with car manufacturers as well, with companies like Ford using 3D printed prototypes in vehicles. These prototypes can be driven for hundreds of thousands of miles and have even been crash tested at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, according to an article regarding 3D printing on Ford’s corporate website. 

According to the website, “In the future, 3D printing could be used for much more than prototypes. As the technology improves, dealer garages might have 3D printers of their own to create replacement parts, making repairs easier than ever. Consumers could download modifications to create custom car accessories as unique as themselves.”

At the moment, Vermillion has reached his goal for 3D printing, but if he needs to, he will reach out to Ramos to create small things such as nuts and bolts. 

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