The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, or MWC, is the biggest event in the mobile industry. This year’s themes centered on the future of mobile, such as the fourth industrial revolution, developments in 5G, AI and the digital consumer. This event is the perfect opportunity for companies to showcase their innovative spirit and how they are anticipating and shaping future trends. For one giant in the mobile industry, 3D Printing provided the ideal solution to represent the company’s innovative spirit. Nokia Bell Labs, the industrial research division of Nokia, turned to 3D Printing to help set up an entire visual representation of how connected cars in a smart city of the future could look like. With just nine days to realize the entire project from start to finish, Materialise was faced with a significant challenge, but one which we were ready to meet!
The City of the Future
The idea behind Nokia Bell Labs’ “City of the Future” was to show the capabilities of its Future X Network architecture and innovations in the context of a city – and how both human controlled and AI controlled machines could co-exist in that future. This was visualized with a scale model of a city, populated with self-driving cars. In one building, a fire is simulated, which is then reacted to with an automated fire truck driving to the location of the fire, and which obviously has priority. The engineers at Nokia Bell Labs had already worked out the basic structure with Lego, but still needed an elegant car cover which would hide the machinery, the sensors and antennas of the cars.
When the project came to us, the deadline was extremely tight. The MWC was in little more than a week, and we not only still had to propose a concept design, the part also had to be printed, finished and shipped to Barcelona where the congress was taking place. There was no time for the normal test prints or feedback rounds – but we were determined to deliver a product which did not compromise on quality.
Concept Design to Production
The very first step was finalizing the concept design. Our Design and Engineering team put their heads together and developed sixteen different car cover designs, which would look futuristic, but at the same time, still recognizable as cars, and hiding all the antennas and sensors. In addition to the covers, we also developed a smart connection system on the cars themselves so the covers were easily interchangeable. The team at Nokia Bell Labs reported back that they loved the designs! They suggested some tweaks and chose three final options, and the project immediately passed on to our production team.
Normally for this sort of project, we would have used Vacuum Casting technology as it is the best option to achieve small series with a finish like conventionally manufactured products. But faced with a tight deadline, we opted for our speediest solution: the Materialise NextDay service using Stereolithography. And without the time for test prints, we had to get it right the first time. We used our NextDay Stereolithography service to produce all 32 of the car covers, and Laser Sintering to print the connection systems for the underlying car structures. And once the parts were printed, they still needed to be sanded and painted in a cheerful yellow, blue, red and grey. One car was even wrapped to promote the fascinating Mission to the Moon project, in which Nokia Bell Labs is supporting Vodafone with the creation of the first 5G network on the moon.
Finally, a day before the congress started, the car covers were delivered in Barcelona, ready to be shown to the world. Check out what they looked like in this tour of the Nokia Bell Labs stand!
“We were really blown away by the flexibility of Materialise, the great quality of the design, the speed of the production and the high level of finishing and project planning overall. Without the flexibility offered by 3D printing technology, and the high level of service we received from Materialise, it would not have been possible to realize this project.”
– Rudi Broos, Marketing & Communications at Nokia Bell Labs