Traditionally there are only a few ways a wheel can be made. A cast is a cheaper option which many companies choose, forged is much stronger but much more expensive, “flow forged” is a technique used on cast wheels to improve strength, and the other option is full carbon fiber which is insanely expensive and tough to find. 3D printing has taken the world of manufacturing by storm, but up until now, it hasn’t been implemented into wheel manufacturing. HRE wanted to prove that 3D printing could be a viable option for wheel manufacturing, so they teamed up with GE Additive to make it happen.
The idea behind this wheel wasn’t really to make something super strong or super light, but rather to prove that additive manufacturing can be brought to the wheel industry. Although forged wheels have been the industry standard for a very long time, the process of building a forged wheel is very inefficient and slow. Not only does additive manufacturing have the potential to be faster, but it also opens up possibilities for new materials such as titanium. On top of that, the design isn’t limited to what the forging tools can do, opening up a whole new world of design possibilities.
The entire process starts with a titanium powder bed. A process known as Electron Beam Melting (EBM) uses an electron beam to melt and fuse fine layers of titanium powder into a sold. This process of building the layers up happens relatively quickly. Unlike the process of forging with takes a massive block and removes material, this process results in very little wasted material. After the EBM process is finished, excess titanium powder is blasted away and recycled. During this process, temporary internal structures are printed to support the complex design. These temporary structures are removed by and recycled. After that, the mating surfaces and threads are CNC machined to ensure super tight fitment and tolerances. The tops of the spokes are then hand brushed to create a beautiful finish, and it’s all bolted to a carbon barrel.
The design of the HRE3D+ is subjective; some will hate it, and some will love it. It’s a design that could never be pulled off with this additive manufacturing process. Although this wheel is just a concept to see what’s possible, additive manufacturing could be the next big thing for wheel manufacturing in the near future.