With everything from household replacements to homemade weapons, 3D printing has been gathering a lot of buzz in the past couple of years, but this new process is also shaking up the auto world by allowing the manufacture of parts that are indistinguishable from originals. Although it will challenge claims of “originality,” it will also make restorations a whole lot cheaper.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
Just as an ink jet printer breaks up deposits drops of ink onto paper representing pixels from a document file, a 3D printer breaks down a 3D CAD drawing into layers and deposits drops of plastic or metal representing the voxels of a CAD file.
These virtual objects can be made by drawing them on the computer, digitally scanning real objects or a combination of the two. Automakers use this process to create full-size prototype parts while small automakers like Koenigsegg use these parts directly in their production cars.
Ensuring Poor Quality
The problem with recreation parts is that they’re built using modern construction standards, which means they lack the flaws of the originals. That translates into years of searching for production parts to reach Concourse-level originality. Thanks to 3D printing, even if there is only one part in existence, it can be scanned and duplicated endlessly, warts and all. Can’t print a part in the right material? A non-functioning part can be made to test fit a design before handing over the design to a craftsman, saving a lot of trial-and-error.
This could be a serious boon for vintage racing: whole cars could be scanned, ensuring that parts can be made to repair one-of-a-kind racers if they’re in an accident.
Cheap Plastic That’s Cheap
This will have the biggest impact on classic cars as a whole with the recreation of plastic parts. Today, molding and casting new parts is prohibitively expensive while even a New Old Stock (NOS) part will be as fragile as a used one. Scanning and printing directly skips the mold-making process for one-off pieces, or the scan can be used to make a perfect mold without trial-and-error test fitting, bringing prices within reach of the average enthusiast.
Scans can also be altered, which means a damaged part can be fixed virtually before a functioning replacement is printed. For example, if you didn’t have a left tail light, the right light could be scanned, flipped right-to-left inside the CAD program, and the text redrawn to read correctly.
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