How Long Until 3D Printed Cars are a Reality?
Car production is constantly evolving; from humble worker manned production lines to automated factories with state of the art robots. Now, with the advent of 3D printing, the world of car production seems to be about to change yet again.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating a three dimensional object. The industry is still in it’s early years, but it’s sights have been firmly set on cars, specifically car production.
While printing a car may sound like something directly lifted from a sci-fi story, the reality is that there have been several fully operational vehicles already constructed with the aid of a 3D printer.
In 2015, it was reported that the world’s first commercially available 3D printed car would be available by 2016. The car in questions is The Strati, which has been developed by Arizona-based technology company, Local Motors, and is made from 75% 3D printed parts. Traditional cars are made of roughly 5000 parts, but the Strati is made using just 49 parts.
The Strati, which is Italian for layers, measures a compact 3ft by 5ft by 10ft. It’s chassis body is composed of one solid piece of black plastic and reinforced carbon fibre and it can reach a maximum speed of 40 mph.
This 3D printed car of the future is also environmentally friendly as it is battery powered. What’s more, the manufacturing process is fast and therefore less expensive, allowing the car to be competitively priced and to help bring innovations to the market. The Strati is currently undergoing rigorous safety testing, but Local Motors hope to have the car ready for pre-order in 2016.
If printing an electric car wasn’t impressive enough, there’s another aspect of the Strati which may change cars of the future: it’s body panels can move. What this means is the panels can be redesigned and reconfigured simply by pressing a button, meaning no two cars need to look the same (dependent on the specification).
The body panels attach simply to the chassis, allowing them to be customized without completely altering the mechanics of the design. These customization present an opportunity for individuality that current car buying trends show to be of great importance to modern motorists. 3D printing a car of your own design could radically change the automotive industry.
Local Motors have stated they wish to develop a car composed of 90% 3D printed parts in the future, including parts in the engine bay. This could be another massive impact to the car industry, as the big players in the car industry look to capitalize on the benefits of manufacturing using 3D printing; namely faster production times, cheaper components and a more streamlined process.
Current 3D printers are not cheap or fast to run, so mass-producing cars for sale to the public is a difficult task currently. To create the world’s first 3D printed car, Local Motors built their own 3D printer. Taking technology from Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAM) machines and combining it with the complex subtractive manufacturing methods, they managed to create something quite impressive: a giant 3D printer big enough to print cars on a large scale.
Not only does this make a turning point for the development of 3D printing as an industry, it also signifies the start of a new future of 3D printed cars. As other manufacturers around the world look to save money and push innovations, we could very well see 3D printed cars on our roads very soon.