How the Czinger 21C will change car production forever

By | February 18, 2024

Czinger 21 C for three quarters lead]

Czinger plans to sell 80 21C hypercars for £2.2m each

‘Doing the bare minimum’ as an expression has a pejorative connotation.

It involves an element of waiting, refusing to exceed expectations and settling for mediocrity – and perhaps even giving up. Yet here we are in 2024, when manufacturers (not just of cars) are faced with rising production costs and are making a determined commitment to reduce their impact on the environment.

Products must not only be cheaper to make: they must also be lighter than ever before, use as few materials as possible and be manufactured quickly, with as few resources as possible. It is clear that doing the bare minimum is now nothing less than an overarching objective for the sector.

Nowhere is that felt more keenly than at 19601 Hamilton Avenue, Torrance, California, also known as the headquarters of manufacturing masterminds Divergent – ​​or, as it will undoubtedly soon be known, the epicenter of a bold new era for the automotive industry .

Divergent is best known as the parent company of Czinger, maker of the ridiculously powerful and fascinatingly designed 21C hypercar – a 1233bhp V8-powered demonstration of what can be achieved with the company’s new-school approach to car manufacturing.

When it was unveiled in 2020, the 21C quickly became known as the “3D printed hypercar,” a description that is at once vaguely accurate and somewhat of an understatement. Because there is certainly no car being built at the moment, anywhere in the world, for public roads or otherwise, that can claim such beauty in its technology.

The rear subframe twists and wraps hypnotically around the masterfully presented engine, free of unsightly welds and clearly as light as it can be without sacrificing an ounce of structural integrity.

The intimidating, bottom-sucking aerodynamic additions – which generate 2000 kg of downforce at 300 km/h – testify to its track-honed performance potential. And the cockpit would appear to have been lifted straight from a Le Mans Hypercar if it weren’t for a central driver’s seat and another behind it for a lucky passenger.

President and Chief Operating Officer Lukas Czinger tells me that Czinger is “a company unto itself” and lays bare his ambition to become “the most successful American performance car company.” But more importantly, the 21C serves as a ‘laboratory on wheels’ to demonstrate and advance the parent company’s development of manufacturing innovations.

“Divergent’s mission was very, very ambitious and broad: a systems-level solution for the design and production of body-in-white automotive, aerospace and defense structures,” he explains. “We looked at their traditional way of making and designing, which had some pretty good digital tools, but not a lot of automation driving that design process.”

It wasn’t just the design process that Divergent wanted to overhaul; Lukas believes the entire vehicle manufacturing process is “broken in more ways than one.” This is mainly because the conventional process of producing a body-in-white “takes a lot of energy and time” and emits a significant amount of CO2, but also because the established methods of development and construction place unnecessary demands on company resources.

“The auto industry’s capital cycle is brutal,” he says. “Even the best in the industry struggle over 10 to 20 year periods because it is such a capital intensive industry, and most of the capital investment comes from manufacturing the white bodywork of that vehicle. So you have to spend a large lump sum upfront – literally locking all that money into stamping dies, casting equipment, welding equipment, setting up your body-in-white facility – and then hope you sell x number of units per year.”

Essentially, the profitability of any given vehicle depends on how quickly its maker is able to amortize the cost of equipping a factory to build it, which is why we are now all so familiar with the standard model from seven to eight years. life cycle, usually with a light styling update halfway through.

Designers and engineers may want to make improvements to the car early on, but they are prohibited from doing so by the need to generate a healthy return on the investment made at the outset.

The solution to all of the above – and the reason we’re here – is Divergent’s highly efficient and ‘three-pillar’ approach to design and manufacturing.

The first pillar is a new AI-powered design program, coded by the company’s own team of engineers, that quickly arrives at the optimal design for a given part – the part that is the lightest, stiffest and most durable in use of the absolute minimum amount of material.

Lukas believes this system has the potential to turn the automotive industry upside down.

He explains: “From a control arm to the rear frame of a vehicle, when we as design engineers create designs, we don’t stop until we fall short of the requirements and say, ‘This is a pretty good design. Maybe we’ll do one or two more loops, but we’re not going to do 10,000 loops to find the real global maximum point.”

“But our piece of software will run 10,000 loops, run that entire workflow and converge to a global maximum where you can’t actually remove an ounce of material from the design. You can’t change that part without one of your performance requirements. This is the most raw form that a part can have.”

Producing components to this ultra-stripped formula is impossible using conventional stamping, casting or machining methods, hence Divergent’s use of ‘additive manufacturing’.

That brings us to the second pillar, the pièce de résistance of the company’s operations: an imposing ring of 22 towering robotic arms, programmed to work together to ‘print’ an ultra-light, ultra-strong and extremely resource-optimized metal structure – whether it is the lower suspension of a car, the swing arm of a motorcycle or even the fuselage of a military aircraft – in the middle.

The poor are sleeping when we visit and we are politely asked not to take photos, but it is clear that what we see is nothing less than a total rethinking of accepted methods of production.

It’s essentially a 3D printer, says Lukas, but instead of weaving simplistic and relatively fragile structures out of plastic or composites, he uses a recyclable aluminum-based alloy, whose chemical structure (one of 650 patents registered by Divergent) was created by the company’s own machine learning-based system (a type of AI).

It is weldable, so the structures produced can be attached together in conventional ways, but Divergent usually uses its own ultra-strong adhesive (another patent), which hardens in just two seconds under an ultraviolet lamp.

“You can do millions this way [cars] per year,” says Lucas. “Whether it’s 10 seconds or 40 seconds, suddenly nothing works anymore.”

Once all parts have been produced, the third pillar comes: assembly.

Lukas explains: “If you have 40 printed parts, how can you put them together in a way that is digital and extends all the benefits of overall design and additive manufacturing to final assembly? We had to design an assembly system that was product independent, so that the same group of robots could assemble a Ford frame or a Ferrari frame – hypothetically – on the exact same hardware.”

With that system in place, Divergent has won its first customers and started scaling globally. The idea is that this will become the “largest production platform in the world”.

Customers will use the company’s software and additive manufacturing system at their own sites to accelerate their operations, reduce costs and reduce environmental impact, giving them the freedom to “design -managed companies”.

According to Lukas, component design can take anywhere from about 18 months to a matter of weeks, and there’s no conventional prototyping process to take into account, so “once that design is done, your part is usually right the first time.”

Furthermore, the lack of hard tools means that designers and engineers have more freedom to change the product once it is already on the market, without having to take into account the millions of euros invested in the production of, for example, a specific grille panel or suspension. . Essentially, additive manufacturing “tremendously reduces the risk of the design you’ve created from a capital perspective.”

In this sense, Divergent has the potential to be the most flexible and cost-effective manufacturing partner in the world, says Lukas: “We are as [contract manufacturers] Foxconn or Magna on steroids, only we are 100% flexible in our product mix.”

There are also huge implications for sustainability, explains Kevin Czinger, founder of Divergent and – you guessed it – Lukas’ father.

“Imagine removing 20%, 30% or 40% of the mass from structures, while maintaining or improving the basic crash. [safety] and performance: that’s where you reduce the impact on the planet,” he says. “It’s called dematerialization: 50-60 years ago a beer can needed 83 grams of aluminum. The wall of the can became thinner and thinner and they developed a different lip, so that is now 12.7 grams.”

Appropriately, Kevin summarizes the entire process with the ‘four D’s’ (4D, get it?): digitize, dematerialize, distribute and democratize.

They didn’t get here overnight. Divergent generated no revenue in its first few years of operation and continues to make fewer than 10,000 parts per year as it finalizes its processes and finds customers.

But the future looks bright: The Czingers predict the company will go from generating tens of millions in revenue today to hundreds of millions as early as 2026, when it plans to make hundreds of thousands of parts.

All operations are currently based in the company’s 100,000-square-foot headquarters near Los Angeles, but they are targeting 30 locations worldwide by 2030.

Divergent currently works with seven global automakers, but the only two publicly mentioned are Aston Martin, which used a 3D-printed rear subframe for its limited edition DBR22 speedster, and Mercedes-Benz. And as the company seeks to build a larger global network of interconnected manufacturing systems, its sports car business will take on new importance as a technology showcase for brand building.

The 21C has already broken production car lap records at the Circuit of the Americas (by around 6 seconds) and at Laguna Seca, where it beat the McLaren Senna by 2 seconds.

Does the Nurbürgring beckon? “We said this is the fastest production car in the world on the track and we intend to make good on that statement,” Lukas grins, perhaps suggesting that the Mercedes-AMG One may not be safely at the top of the tree. in Germany for much longer.

But while Czinger is keen to “obliterate track records”, Lukas says the 21C is primarily a demonstration of the wider implications of Divergent’s technology: “In five to ten years you will look back and see that 21C was the first instance of a vehicle designed and built on this system. That will be powerful. And I think a lot of other cars will be built that way.”

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