If 3D car printing sounds like sci-fi to you, it’s the here and now. Engineers have found ways to build not just cars, but auto parts and restoration models using CAD drawings, 3D printers and molten polymer. Will these 3D cars and parts change the auto industry as we know it?
What Is 3D Car Printing?
In a nutshell, 3-D car and auto parts printing is where designers and engineers create a CAD drawing of the part or vehicle and using software, upload the design to a 3D printer. Once the printer is given its instructions to recreate the CAD drawing, the “human” job is done.
Wired Magazine offers that Jim Kor of Kor Ecologic used this process to design the energy-efficient Urbee 2. Kor achieved his dream of creating a polymer plastic, energy-efficient vehicle (it runs on part electricity, part ethanol), however, manufacturing time is approximately 2500 hours — almost 15 weeks. 3D auto parts printing is done via the same process.
How it Could Revolutionize the Auto Parts Industry
3D car printing also offers the ability to also create auto parts. According to Popular Mechanics, the 3D printers that engineers are using to make vehicles have the ability to create parts exact in measurement and as designed.
While most 3D parts created are plastic, some 3D printers are already printing metal parts. From air vents to cylinder heads, the type and amount of auto parts produced will increase dramatically using the 3D printing process.
One would also have to consider the aftermarket parts industry where custom or customer desired parts would be created, such as bumpers with unique paint designs that don’t require the painting process.
The Green Effect of 3D Printing
With the popular trend to reduce companies’ carbon footprints, 3D car printing could revolutionize the auto industry’s energy-sucking reputation. By using fewer raw materials, 3D printing is a greener choice. A recent study performed at Michigan Tech unveiled that polymer structures maintained their strength and used less energy to produce. While vehicles are much more complex, this study suggests a roadmap for saving energy. Here are a few other green benefits of 3D printing:
- No needless manufacturing: If it were possible to print a vehicle on demand, it would do away with needless manufacturing and save a lot of embedded energy.
- Fewer raw materials wasted: 3D printing uses additive processes, where successive layers of materials are laid down in different shapes. Traditional machining processes often use subtractive processes, where cutting or drilling is used to remove unneeded parts of the object (to create holes and gaps, for example). These redundant bits of material are wastes.
- Longer lives for products: If your car gives up, what do you do? Sure, you could try to seek out a replacement part, but that might cost you a pretty penny. If you had a 3D printer, you could potentially print your own level replacement, thus extending the life of an otherwise perfectly-usable vehicle.
- Easier recycling: As it stands, all objects created by 3D printing are made from a single raw material, making the recycling process a lot more straightforward.
The Effect of 3D Auto Printing on the Insurance Industry
There are also benefits to the auto insurance industry with 3D car printing. Everyone from those who own an Aston Martin to a Volkswagen Beetle would have the ability to seek car quotes and provide them a 3D car-scanned appraisal to place a more accurate value on the vehicle.
Popular Mechanics says David Kettner of Fused Innovation recommend the 3D printing car appraisal process, “We can laser scan the entire vehicle as an insurance policy in case of damage.” Even more, if the vehicle is in an accident and needs repairs, those 3D scans will show exactly how the car was put together — even down to the tiniest bolt.
Car Restorations Will Be Easily Managed
If you always wanted a 1971 Pontiac GTO with that powerful V8 engine, unique front grille and all those added chrome extras, with 3D car printing, you may not have to “buy” one and restore it.
Imagine the exact vehicle designed exactly to original specifications, turned into a CAD drawing and once the 3D printing starts, the resto-mod vehicle of your dreams is possible. In addition, as time goes by, it has classically been more difficult to find parts to restore old classic or antique cars, but not with the advent of the 3D car printing. With this technology, old parts can be fabricated on demand, meaning that classic cars will be more easily restored.
With a little tweaking to the process, in fact, they could even possibly be made to meet the tougher emissions standards of today (this has always been a challenge for older cars, which have to obtain particular license tags in many states to circumvent emissions laws). The subsequent effect on the environment could be significant.
Proponents of the 3D auto creations see it as another step in technology. Still, there are those who tout the result is imitated and then there’s the matter of a downsized workforce. In any event, 3D auto printing is here, so stay tuned!