If Kevin Czinger ’81 LAW ’87 has his way, every American will soon be driving a car with 3-D printed parts.

Czinger is the founder and CEO of Divergent 3D, a 6-year-old startup that uses 3-D printing technology to create car parts. He said he sees his work as a revolutionary shift in auto manufacturing.

“The way that cars are manufactured was introduced in 1930,” he said. “The technology hasn’t changed enough since. In this age, we better figure out a way to manufacture vehicles differently.”

Divergent 3D does not design and create its own cars, but it uses 3-D printed metal structures to connect components of a car. Czinger referred to these pieces as “nodes” and said they represent an instrumental part of car assembly.

The nodes connect the pieces of the car with a strong adhesive, rather than welding. This creates a lighter underbody, which in turn reduces costs and the number of materials that go into production. The finished car also uses less fuel than its welded counterpart.

Minimizing the environmental burden is the driving force behind Czinger’s work, he said. Before Divergent 3D, Czinger worked with electric vehicles as part of a startup called Coda Automotive, an all-electric car company that sought to tap into the Chinese market. Due to the large population of drivers, he explained, achieving a positive environmental change in China was an important part of achieving a positive global change.

Divergent 3D approaches the problem of sustainability from a unique angle, Czinger said. Rather than concentrating solely on building a final product that runs efficiently, his startup seeks to manufacture cars sustainably from start to finish. This holistic approach relies on life cycle analysis, Czinger said.

Life cycle analysis is an important tool and part of the research of Edgar Hertwich, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the director of the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology.

Hertwich explained that life cycle analysis charts the environmental effect of a product throughout its lifetime. It examines everything, beginning with the extraction of raw materials and moving through manufacturing and use before ending with disposal.

“It is more comprehensive in its way of tracing pollution through supply chains,” he said, comparing it to other measures of environmental impact.

In addition to being more sustainable, the future of car manufacturing will be much cheaper and more local than its current state, as Czinger envisions it. By reducing the resources required to build a car, he explained, production can occur at more local levels. Warehouses would be smaller and more urban than the large car factories of Detroit, for example. This approach allows for the democratization of auto assembly, he said.

Joseph Zinter — a lecturer in the mechanical engineering department and the assistant director of Yale’s Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, which contains 3-D printers — said 3-D printing has become an increasingly widespread technology.

The printers function by receiving input from a 3-D image and dissecting the image into very thin layers. The printer then works layer by layer, filling specified areas with material —plastic at the CEID and metal at Divergent 3D.

According to data Zinter collected from the CEID, 15 percent of Yale undergraduates have 24/7 access to 3-D printers. In addition, since its opening, the CEID has trained 1,700 people, and the machines have logged 47,000 hours of runtime, which amounts to about 5.4 years.

Zinter explained that 3-D printing is used for many purposes. He often works with the technology in conjunction with the School of Medicine, designing models doctors use to plan surgeries.

For Czinger, 3-D printers play an outsized role in more than just his working life.

“Outside of my family and spiritual beliefs,” Czinger said, “this is the purpose that I was born for.”

Tommy Martin | tommy.martin@yale.edu