3D-printing How soon until you're driving a 3D-printed car?
3D printing in the automotive industry has been growing steadily over the last few years. According to recent projections, 3D printing in the automotive market is expected to reach $7.22 billion by 2025. But how far are we from driving our own 3D car on public roads?
They may not be commercially available yet, but working prototypes of 3D-printed cars do exist. Design company XEV, has a prototype called LSEV, which only has 57 component parts and weighs only 450 kilograms. And manufacturing startup Divergent, has developed The Blade, the first 3D-printed supercar.
Whereas some companies are using 3D printing to reimagine car design, others are focusing on developing component parts new designs. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D-printed vehicles offer an eco-friendly, lightweight alternative to traditional cars.
As the technology continues to develop, 3D-printed cars will become more cost-effective to manufacture. For example, Volkswagen is currently working with HP and GKN Powder Metallurgy to produce a 3D printer that can manufacture parts 50 times quicker that current technology allows.
The very first 3D-printed car
The first technology to be used in 3D printing was developed in Japan in the early 1980s. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that two NASA employees created the first 3D printer prototype called Gigabot.
The first 3D-printed car was created in 2014 by Local Motors. The car, called Strati, took several years to design, but only 44 hours to print. The two-seater car is electric and was officially unveiled at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, Illinois.
Whereas most cars have around 5,000 different component parts, Strati only has 49, including its chassis, steering wheel and motor. Printed in carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic, Strati can drive at speeds of up to 64 km/h (40 mph) and can travel 193 km (120 miles) on a single charge.
Here’s a video showing what the car looks like:
3D-printed cars and prototyping
Historically, 3D printing has been used for prototyping in the automotive industry. Designers can quickly create a prototype component as proof of concept before it goes into mass production.
3D printing has revolutionized the product development process in car manufacturing. From steering wheels, to spark plugs, additive manufacturing enables companies to reduce lead times on validating new models.
As knowledge of 3D printing expands and the cost of machines reduce, prototyping will become more common practice in the sector. Higher strength materials and metals are being developed all the time, which expands the possibilities of what 3D printing can achieve for car companies.
Manufacturing 3D-printed cars today
Today, additive manufacturing is being used in innovative ways. For example, classic and rare cars are able to be restored using original parts. 3D printing enables manufacturers to produce obsolete components that can be used to keep their classic range on the road.
Porsche is currently producing rare component parts for its classic cars using original specifications. The Porsche Classic range is said to have around 52,000 parts, so ensuring a constant supply means collectors can keep their classic cars in circulation. It also enables Porsche to print parts on demand, which reduces equipment and storage costs.
Car companies are also using 3D printers to reimagine classic cars with a modern twist. For example, Volkswagen recently recreated its iconic 1962 Microbus, replacing the engine with electric drive. It used additive manufacturing to add a number of improvements, including aluminum wheels.
And British car maker Mini recently started offering a personalization service to its customers, using 3D printing and laser engraving. The service allows customers to personalize parts of their car like door handles, and taillights.
As 3D printing continues to develop in the automotive industry, we’d expect to see more full-scale prototypes being developed. We may not be driving around in 3D-printed cars on public roads just yet, but we’re not far off it.