Meet the Cimbrer, a 187-lbs car built out of parts that were, for the most part, manufactured using a 3D printer and can be assembled in the space of two hours to create a fully functional, environmentally friendly vehicle. Or how about the Strati, a sleek two-seater that takes less than 40 hours to print—with the body being printed in one piece—and under four days to assemble. Or last, but certainly not least, the Maasaica, a biodegradable car powered by solar energy and constructed from a printed frame and an organic mycelium-bioplastic body that collects water for cooling and recycling.
If these examples sound like fictional cars in sci-fi movies, think again. They’re real, albeit only in the prototype stages. The Cimbrer was produced at Denmark’s Aalborg University for the Shell Eco-marathon, which challenges student participants to create the most energy-efficient, functional vehicle. The Strati, created by Italian designer Michele Anoe, won Local Motors’ 3D Printed Car Design Challenge and will be manufactured live during Chicago’s International Manufacturing Technology Show in September 2014. And a prototype of the Maasaica, created by Swedish designer Erik Melldahl in collaboration with BMW to encourage environmentally responsible technological advances in developing countries, has already been locally manufactured in Serengeti.
Rising interest in 3D printing
In the automotive industry, 3D printing has been used since the 1990s to create parts for prototypes. Though the technology is traditionally used in conceptual the phase, thanks to the wider availability of printers and subsequent lower printing costs, its incorporation into the production process is looking increasingly more viable, making what was once merely a part of a process a potential catalyst for innovation due to the 3D printer’s flexibility and speed.
There are a number of reasons to use 3D printing, including:
- the potential use of highly cost-effective, eco-friendly, and lightweight materials
- the flexibility to quickly implement design adaptations into the manufacturing process
- the ability to print replacement parts within minutes
- increased time-efficiency
At present, there are still three important obstacles to fully integrating 3D printing into the production cycle:
- build sizes of the printers, which limit the dimensions of printed parts
- current high costs of materials
- legal requirements in terms of product quality and safety
However, the industry is looking to solve these limitations. For example, in Automotive Megatrends, Sandro Piroddi, Supervisor for Rapid Prototyping at Ford’s Rapid Technology Centre, suggests developing methods to re-use materials in order to limit waste and control costs.
Hybrids, electric vehicles, and connected cars have all had implications on the skills workers need in today’s automotive industry. And though 3D printing isn’t yet feasible for use in mass production, it’s probable that in the near future, it will be. Since 3D printing allows for changes to be easily incorporated into the production cycle, it follows that automotive talent will need to be highly responsive and flexible. They should be able to quickly and accurately adapt their specific workflows to any tweaks in the design process. Additionally, they should be capable of making suggestions for improvements when they observe better or more effective ways of doing things. And with Kelly Services® research showing that today’s automotive workers want more meaningful work and increased collaboration, the increased need for responsiveness promises to be a positive development for all involved.
Sources: Holly Erlichman, VP,
Global Solutions Group at Kelly Services® 2014 Kelly Workforce Global Index
Automotive Industry Brief http://energyblog.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/18/is-the-future-of-car-manufacturing-in-3d-printing/