3d printing3D printing (also called Additive Manufacturing) is one of the many industry disruptors of our modern era. It involves the creation of a 3-dimensional object by using a computer to dictate the addition of successive layers of a material to form a shape. Provided that the dimensions of the shape are programmed correctly (using 3D modeling), the shape is a realistic choice for the printer’s material, and the shape does not exceed the size limits of the printer, basically any object can be created this way.

The technology behind the factory-revolutionizing machine has covered substantial ground since its prototype was created in Japan in 1981. Originally engineered to create plastic models by melting down plastic beads, the machines’ technology has now expanded to create metal objects using fine metallic powder. The powder is grinded down to the point that each grain is half as wide as human hair before they are collectively melted by lasers and applied in sheets to create shapes.

This is a game-changer for the auto industry. For example, Audi recently began 3D printing metal parts for its vehicles. The printers can’t make objects larger than eight inches cubed, many vehicle parts still cannot be 3D printed, but the service still helps with complicated parts that would usually need to be machined or cast.

With a 3D printer, Audi Toolmaking has produced a model of the historical Grand Prix sports car “Auto Union Typ C” from the year 1936 on a scale of 1:2. For this purpose, a selective-sintering laser melted layers of metallic powder with a grain size of 15 to 40 thousandths of a millimeter. The process therefore allows the production of components with complex geometries, which with conventional methods could either not be produced or only with great difficulties.

Audi decided to use its new printer to create a perfect 1:2 model of their 1936 Auto Union Typ C grand prix car. It’s pretty cute.

Audi isn’t the only auto company to find innovative ways to use 3D printing. The full-size 3D printed Strati was one of the most ground-breaking cars to be exhibited on the floor of the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago back in 2014. The vehicle was composed of fewer than 50 parts, most of which were created out of fibre-infused plastic by a 3D printer. Because every part besides the electronics, powertrain, and suspension were 3D printed, the entire vehicle was created and assembled in two days.

“The most significant impact of the Strati is that it challenges the status quo of automotive manufacturing,” explained Alex Chausovsky, an analyst for the industry forecasting firm IHS. “It showed that it’s no longer necessary to produce vehicles from tens of thousands of parts using sophisticated and costly assembly lines.”

“Although rapid prototyping is still the major focus…in the automotive sector, there are some glimpses of a much bigger potential impact,” Chausovsky continued.

Ford Motor has also incorporated the printers into its factories’ repertoire. In 2013, it managed to 3D print an intake manifold prototype for only $3,000. Without a printer, the part would have cost $500,000 to create.

one 1The Swedish-made Koenigsegg One: 1 hypercar is another impressive example of the innovations that 3D printing make possible. The One:1 has improved response time and low-end torque as a result of its 3D printed variable turbo housing. It also has a titanium-printed exhaust end piece.

“Although the environmental implications of 3D printing are still being studied, it’s clear that using fewer materials and localizing production closer to the end-use markets are both very environmentally friendly practices,” Chausovsky concluded.

3D printing could also help auto companies to avoid some of the carbon emissions that result from transporting products to and from manufacturing facilities.

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