Time and again, we’re told that buying a brand new car is the second biggest purchase you’ll ever make. So you want to own a car, but you can’t decide which one to spend your hard-earned on? You like the look of this one but the colours of that one, the driving position of this one and the gadgets of that one. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive?
What if you could have it all?
3D Printing is having a major effect on manufacturing by providing rapid access to prototypes; the sooner you can see a design in real life, the sooner you can assess it and make changes.
The benefit for Joe Bloggs is that the trickle-down effect has meant an ever-increasing supply of machines for home use, and a year-on year reduction in price. With a 3D Printer capable of creating plastic or metal alloy parts already available for under £1000 you could conceivably be replacing parts suppliers for cosmetic parts with a software program. Scan the old part, and print a new one. As the meerkat said, simples!
As you can see in this article in America’s Popular Mechanics blog by Jay Leno, including the comments made by car fanatic readers, the vintage car market is already benefitting considerably from the new technology:
One of the hardships of owning an old car is rebuilding rare parts when there are simply no replacements available. My 1907 White Steamer has a feedwater heater, a part that bolts onto the cylinders. It’s made of aluminum, and over the 100-plus years it’s been in use, the metal has become so porous you can see steam and oil seeping through. I thought we could just weld it up. But it’s badly impregnated with oil and can’t be repaired. If we tried, the metal would just come apart.
So, rather than have a machinist try to copy the heater and then build it, we decided to redesign the original using our NextEngine 3D scanner and Dimension 3D printer. These incredible devices allow you to make the form you need to create almost any part. The scanner can measure about 50,000 points per second at a density of 160,000 dots per inch (dpi) to create a highly detailed digital model. The 3D printer makes an exact copy of a part in plastic, which we then send out to create a mold. Some machines can even make a replacement part in cobalt-chrome with the direct laser sintering process. Just feed a plastic wire–for a steel part you use metal wire–into the appropriate laser cutter.
As an example, see Stuff.co.nz’s story about kiwi Ivan Sentch’s project Aston Martin
Using a $500 Solidoodle 3D printer, Ivan Sentch, a programmer from Auckland, is printing a mold of the the car. “I have been printing since January and I have printed about 72 per cent of everything,” Sentch said…
Once finished, he will make a fiberglass mould of the print and fit that to the engine, electrics, suspension and drivetrain of a 1993 Nissan Skyline. He will then have to build the interior. The project is a labour of love that comes second to his day job and family life and Sentch doesn’t expect to have the mould ready for another 18 months. He won’t be driving the car for another five years.
The Strati is made by Arizona, USA company Local Motors, and although it’s an electric car, it points the way to a revolution in kit-car building.
So before long, you could see major manufacturers getting in on the game. This Autoexpress article from 2013 discusses the Urbee 3D printed car;
The first Urbee was custom printed using Fused Deposition Modelling – the spaghetti and glue gun approach – to create a honeycomb structure like a bee hive. This material was only used where necessary, giving a light, strong and green structure that performed well in a crash.
For the Urbee 2, all visible components inside and outside the vehicle will be printed in what KOR EcoLogic calls a factory of the future – a bank of printers working on 40 discreet panels, with ducting and wiring incorporated into each printed part.
So it seems that even if it doesn’t happen soon, it could well be worth saving up not for your dream car, but for your own factory…
This article was written by Rupert Astbury