3D printing technology is paving the way for new advancements in the auto industry. Rapid prototyping via 3D printers is already being used by companies like Ford and Chevrolet (the 2014 Malibu is one example). Soon though, 3D printers may be coming to a garage near you.
The ability to scan and print replacement parts for cars could be a complete game-changer for the auto repair market. No more waiting for parts to be ordered and delivered, no more bidding on Ebay for impossible-to-find classic replacements. In a few hours, you could have the exact part you need, printed and ready to go.
The technology isn't widely available yet, but it's definitely on the radar. One restoration company, Fused Innovation, is on the cutting edge. They have four rapid prototyping machines that they use for various functions: A Z Corp fused-powder printer, an Objet polyjet machine, a 3D Systems stereolithography machine and a converted Optimax machine that makes metal parts.
"We have had customers who basically have what would be considered a priceless vehicle," says Fused Innovation's David Kettner. "We can laser scan their entire vehicle as an insurance policy in case of damage." If the car gets totaled, they can reprint (or make casting molds) to reproduce the entire car. "We've had to do it already," said Kettner.
Most recently, Fused Innovations has been working with McPherson College to introduce students to the new opportunities 3D printing has opened up. What do they plan to teach the students? CAD skills, of course. Even if they graduate and work for a company that doesn't have the 3D printing technology yet, they can still get a good scan, clean it up and outsource the printing job to someone else. Think Kinkos, for car parts.
The possible applications aren't limited to small replacement parts. The folks at KOR EcoLogic (in conjunction with Stratasys and RedEye on Demand) have already created a 3D printed car called the URBEE. The URBEE's largest parts were printed on a Stratasys Fortus 900mc, and they are about to drive it from San Francisco to New York in its first field test.