What is 3D printing doing lately in the realm of making cars? We've written here about the attempts to print automobiles from a 3D printer, though it's still in somewhat of an experimental stage. A number of cases have been in the news recently about engineers attempting to print full-size cars, even if some have yet to be fully proven to work on the road. Before the end of the year, we'll probably know more for sure. One thing we do know is that major automakers are already secretly using 3D printers, with much more to come.
How are 3D printers already being used in the auto industry? Most of it right now is in making parts rather than complete cars. Nevertheless, the fact that four major automakers are now using 3D printing is a telling reminder of what the future might look like in America's manufacturing.
What the Main Manufacturers Are Doing Right Now
According to recent reports, Ford has been using a 3D printer since the late 1980s. And that makes sense considering 3D printing has been around for over 25 years, yet only exploded into the mainstream in the last couple of years. It's a strange timeline for 3D printing, yet Ford could obviously see its future. Currently, they use 3D printing for prototype parts that consistently saves them money compared to how they used to be manufactured.
Honda provides an interesting twist of letting consumers print out a 3D-designed mini replica of their latest cars. It's another example of how 3D printing can print exact duplicates of something in miniature form, which is already being done with scans of people. Letting people inspect the exterior of new Honda cars before buying gives a whole new concept to car searching.
As for General Motors, they're making tools from 3D printers that can help create complex car parts. This is a slight twist on 3D printers, though one that can make a huge difference in creating complicated tool shapes. Plus, reports say GM is scanning rival cars and back-engineering them on CAD programs and through 3D printers.
Daimler is said to be investing in a larger 3D printer that could print out larger car parts in the future. It shows signs the major automakers no doubt want to get to the point where 3D printers produce complete cars to save production time and money.
Whether we'll be driving 3D-printed cars before the end of the decade is still up in the air since determining timelines on the technology is proving impossible. If it helps eliminate defects in cars, it already shows the power of 3D printing in what it can do to help perfect manufacturing at a level that's been over 25 years in the making.