From corporate automakers and race teams to independent car designers and enthusiasts, everyone is embracing the power of 3D scanning and printing for their projects. The ability to easily produce any component, including full scale chassis, in high tech materials, ranging from carbon fiber to Kevlar, attracts these builders. This manufacturing technique also saves time and money over traditional methods by streamlining the design and production process. As a result, 3D scanning and printing is involved in the production of vehicle prototypes, rare parts, aerodynamic improvements and weight reduction components for custom car builds of all kinds.
Independent automakers are taking a page from the corporate playbook by embracing 3D printing to produce their vehicle prototypes. Until recently, automakers had to craft their prototypes by hand using traditional auto design techniques, which often required months of hard work. Every component from the chassis to the door panels would need to be constructed from scratch using hand tools.
Today, 3D printing an entire custom vehicle build only takes a few weeks tops. The cost savings are significant as well, with automakers claiming to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on each prototype. If testing reveals any problems, automakers can easily return to the design board, fix the issue and reprint in record time.
Without 3D scanning and printing, independent automakers would likely not have the resources to produce their own vehicle builds for public consumption. Despite the quick production times and low manufacturing costs, the 3D printed vehicles hold up to the strenuous testing process just as well as traditional builds always have. With these modern car making practices, independent automakers have produced energy efficient, lightweight vehicles that can top 100 kilometers per hour with ease.
Rare Part Replication
The biggest limiting factor when it comes to restoring a priceless antique automobile is the ability to find replacement parts. As these vehicles reach fifty years of age and beyond, many of the parts are rusted, worn or otherwise damaged. Vehicle enthusiasts have turned to 3D scanning as an insurance policy against ongoing wear and tear or damage from accidents. The scanning and printing process also allows enthusiasts to produce rare aftermarket parts that have long since gone out of production.
The reproduction process goes beyond the replication of the original parts by removing reported flaws before printing. The result is an improved build with the appropriate components for the year, make, model and trim level of each vehicle. Production of the parts using 3D printers can take anywhere between 5 and 33 hours, depending on the size and complexity of the component. In comparison, having a machinist reverse engineer and manufacture the parts can take weeks to months. Furthermore, the traditional machining process is frequently fraught with errors and adjustments that is just not experienced with 3D scanning and printing.
Race teams rely on aerodynamic components to keep their vehicles firmly hugging the road and moving at their limits. The use of 3D printing allows team managers to keep ample rear wings, front splitters and other aerodynamic components on hand in case of accidental damage on the track. The components are precisely designed for each custom racecar to perfectly fit and function.
Independent car manufacturers are using the capabilities of 3D printing and scanning equipment to create fully aerodynamic car designs. The designers wisely rely on the efficiency of aerodynamics in nature, such as the profile of a hawk in flight, to guide their vehicle panel shapes and lines. These cars feature precisely engineered shapes that keep the air quickly moving around the vehicle, rather than pushing against its front clip. The use of 3D printing allows these designers to continually refine their inspirational designs to lower drag to unprecedented levels.
When combined with fuel efficient power plants, such as solar or electricity, the aerodynamic vehicles enjoy immense range on a single fill up. A recent creation, a bean-shaped vehicle powered with a gas-electric hybrid engine, boasts the ability to travel up to 3,000 miles on a single 10-gallon tank of gas.
Vehicle Weight Reduction
As 3D scanning and printing equipment was developed, plastic was the material of choice for the intricate projects. Over the years, print equipment developers have customized the machines to work with strong, yet lightweight materials, including carbon fiber. Plastic has not been completely disregarded in the car world, however, as it is a suitable material for non-moving, non-loadbearing components.
Custom car builders are also adopting weight reduction practices used in the aviation world. To decrease weight of already streamlined airplane designs, manufacturers are 3D printing structural components that mimic the look of bird skeletons or honeycombs. This practice not only reduces fuel costs, but manufacturing expenses as well. Each part is precision made to fit together quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, fewer parts overall are required to construct the vehicle build, which drops manufacturing times significantly.
By infusing the vehicles with these weight reducing materials and build structures, custom car builders are decreasing the total weight of their creations by a stunning 95 percent. With time, the strength to weight ratio of 3D printed components will continually improve to meet the needs of race teams, custom car builders and enthusiasts.
Looking into the Future
Although 3D scanning and printing practices have provided so many impressive vehicle improvement options in recent years, there is always room for further developments. Builders and enthusiasts alike will surely use their passion for the automotive world to push this technology to new heights. The thought of allow consumers to design and print their very own custom vehicle at the factory seems like a pipe dream, but it is well in the works for the near future. Furthermore, scanning and printing rare, out of production parts within a few short hours will likely become commonplace in the near future. Only time will tell how custom car enthusiasts and builders will utilize 3D printing and scanning capabilities next.