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Get your 3D glasses out – cars (and parts!) are going futuristic

Get your 3D glasses out – cars (and parts!) are going futuristic

It may seem way too futuristic to imagine a car – or even a single car part – created from a printer. A question that you may be asking is: “is it even drivable?” or you may have an even bigger question – “Is it safe?”

Introducing LM3D – The Industry’s First 3D Printed Car

As unbelievable as it sounds, Local Motors, a collective design firm, printed an entire vehicle on the floor of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show last year. Made from roughly 75% 3D printed parts, the LM3D even has 3D printed body panels and chassis.

While standard passenger vehicles have significantly longer design and manufacturing processes, the LM3D went from final design to completed vehicle in less than 3 months by primarily using plastic parts reinforced with carbon fiber.

This new “smart car” is scheduled to be available for sale sometime within the next year.

Is it even safe?

Even more important than innovation is safety – something no driver wants their car to slack on. The LM3D is completing crash testing with the ultimate goal of making 3D cars even safer and more durable than traditional cars and exceeding Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

What is 3D Printing?

At its simplest, 3D printing uses a digital file to create 3 dimensional solid parts by layering, or adding, material. Can’t picture it? Click here to see a demonstration.

Today, 3D printing is becoming more widely used within aerospace, medical, and defense industries.  Yep, you could be flying on an airplane made from 3D printed parts.

So what’s the big hype about 3D printing, specifically in the automotive industry?

What makes this technology so attractive is that 3D printed parts are 25% lighter – but just as durable – as traditionally manufactured parts. The lighter weight comes from creating a “honeycombed” interior versus a solid interior.

3D printing isn’t ready for mass production of metal parts due to cost and complexity, but automakers are showing some considerable interest. OEMs see tremendous potential in 3D printing to create molds and tooling that can be easily recreated or altered much faster and more cost-effective than traditional methods.

In fact, according to SmartTech market research, 3D printing could grow to $1.25 billion by 2019 for uses in prototyping and creating tooling and molds. It will also bring a whole new level of customization to specialty cars.

Toyota recently demonstrated customization capabilities with their student-designed uBox concept car. Designed in partnership with Clemson University and focusing on the next generation of car buyers, uBox is an electric car with a 3D printed dashboard featuring detachable trim pieces and air vents for easy and affordable personalization.

Are 3D Parts Practical When It Comes to Repair?

Yes, it is conceivable for distributors or repairers to print their own parts on site. For example, a body shop could print resin screws, clips, or other small parts on demand. But in the case of the LM3D vehicle whose body structure is a single part, that’s a different story.

If you make a living selling replacement parts, don’t worry, you have plenty of time to adjust to the 3D parts-printing trend before you need to stock up on 3D parts. Local Motors acknowledges that 3D printing costs need to come down before 3D cars can truly go mainstream.

Since 3D printing isn’t going anywhere soon, it’s safe to assume it will play a future role in automotive car parts. How impactful that role is, is still up in the air.

Do you see 3D printing making its way into your business and the automotive industry? Tell us what you think!

By: Kathy Jambor | August 31st, 2016

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Posted in: Industry News