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Power play of 3D printing

By Sally Dominguez, 02 Jul 2015 Car Style

Power play of 3D printing

There are more elements to car design than a Heston Blumenthal recipe. But 3D printing is here to stir things up.

So, what is 3D printing? It’s the process of creating a 3D shape from a digital file using a special printer that spits out the material in layers. The process can use a range of materials and methods such as softening or melting layers, using extremely hard metals and porcelains or layering materials together to create composites. It sure beats craft-gluing paddle pop sticks together.

3D printing has taken a number of industries by storm; jewellery, medicine, food and even toys all benefit from this technology.

In the automotive world, it makes customising cars and car parts that bit easier, and cheaper, and it allows car designers to try new tricks using a more cost efficient method than old school modelling. Put down the paddle pops, guys!

3D printing is a game-changer in design, engineering and sustainability.

We know, some of you think gluing and glittering a model together is way more fun than any 3D printer, right? But here’s the thing: 3D printing ultimately benefits you, the consumer, in the long run.

Consider this: 3D printing allows manufacturers to try new things and drop weight from the vehicles as it’s based on material optimisation – this means improved fuel economy for you. Sometimes the results are dropped-pie ugly while other times, it pushes the technical game forward.

Then there are those projects that are almost otherworldly, like the Light Cocoon concept car by EDAG (check it out here).

The cars we see in the showroom (production cars) are the next in line to get the 3D treatment. There are already a number of businesses allowing you to print various parts for your car such as chargers, radio covers and even console storage. Some websites are even offering the ability to design console inserts to match your coffee mug or back-seat-storage for the kids toys. Neat hey?

3D printing Toyota IROAD
Toyota's electric i-Road vehicles.

Then there are customisable car interiors that are an option for consumers. For example, Toyota’s single-person electric i-Road three-wheel vehicle allows the customisation of textures and colours using 3D-printed body parts garnered from tester vehicles.

Currently, Mercedes is considering using 3D printing as a production technique on its 2018 S-class. The Swedish Koenigsegg 1 supercar printed its exhaust in titanium to achieve huge weight reductions (making it the first production car with one horsepower for every kilogram it weighs).

And in a smart social media move, Ford released 3D-printing plans for the F150-Raptor (and three other production vehicles) so that Ford fans can print models at home.

Printers are priced in the low thousands, making life for manufacturers easier and ultimately saving dollars for consumers.