Jul 11 2013, 5:20am CDT | by Mustafa Syed
Three-dimensional printing is the new technology that his helping science advance in the field of production possibilities. 3D printing is the ability to make practically anything in solid from a digital model. This is achieved through a process of successive layers being added upon one another to create different shapes. The plastic is set down one wafer-thin layer at a time, before the printer lowers the print bed by roughly the width of a human hair and repeats the process for the next layer up. To create an analogy it can be related to something like a hot glue gun.
The printers used have multiple heads that allow greater flexibility and offer a higher level of accuracy while recreating the digital. This also helps with the ability of using different materials in each nozzle. This could mean that one part of the printer could be working for example the rear bumper while the rest of the printer is being used to create the front headlights. At the end of the process, the soluble parts are washed away to create overhanging, unsupported shapes that can wrap around existing components.
Talking about cars and 3D printing, there has been great progress within this field. Urbee is the first car to be produced completely by a 3D printer. It was modelled using Fused Deposition Modelling, – the spaghetti and glue gun approach – to create a honeycomb structure like a beehive cleverly explained by AutoExpress. This material was only used where necessary, giving a light, strong and green structure that performed well in a crash.
Currently a second 3D modelled car, Urbee 2, is being developed by its company KOR EcoLogic and will consist of both inner and outer components developed solely by the 3D printer except for the roll-cage and powetrain; they will be produced the traditional way.
AutoExpress quotes Jim Kor, the senior designer at Kor Ecologic, saying that the future of 3D printing will be both at home and in the production line at work. He went on to further to say that change requires a generation to pass, but the affordable home 3D printers of today could mean that this change is happening faster than everyone thought.
The real life application can be seen through a small episode that occurred with Matthew Stonebreaker. AutoExpress goes on the explain how Matthew needed a front hood latch for his 2005 Buick LeSabre but would have to pay an extremely marked up price for a reasonably available piece, however it would be only sold with the whole assembly package which was wasteful and unneccessary. Being aware of the versatility of 3D printing, he took accurate measurements and designed the piece using widely available digital modelling software and went to have it printed by a company called Shapeways for grand total cost of $30. After seeing the endless possibilities of 3D printing, Matthew went out to buy a 3D printer himself.
Manufacturers obviously have a slight advantage and can afford expensive and more comprehensive printing kits for their own use, but prices for personal use 3D printers at home are coming down. 3D printers can now be bought as low as $1000.
In the short term, 3D printing will enable to fix repairs and to help save classics by manufacturing parts that the automakers are no longer producing. This will help save classic beauties that might fade away just because they were missing a few essential parts.
The possibilities of 3D Printing are endless. The future could see a setup of centralised auto plants, with cars printed in the showroom, the driving seat designed to fit the customer’s inside leg, the steering wheel in perfect proportion to their grip – and all ready to be driven away a few hours after ordering.
The only limit is the motor industry’s imagination, and its will to push things forward.
Mustafa Syed is an avid car enthusiast and has been a car fanatic ever since childhood.
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