3D printing is a new process where layers of plastic are added to build a solid object on the basis of a digital plan. So far, 3D printing has only been used for unique, individual items on a small scale. However, the current development of the 3D printed car ‘Urbee 2’ by the engineering group ‘KOR EcoLogic’ is fuelling hopes for an utilisation of ‘plastic printing’ for the mass production of various products. Currently, the new printing technology is facing some limitations, which may be resolved soon paving the way towards digital manufacturing.

3D Printing in Automotive Industry: Limitations and Challenges

The 3D printing technology is one of the marking factors, which next to the utilisation of renewable energy and networking technologies in production, may build up a new industrial revolution. With the implementation of new technologies and sustainable energy options, industry workers and designers may experience a simplification and acceleration of their working procedures, which demands for an adjusted skill set.

For instance, next to KOR EcoLogic, the first car manufacturers such as Audi, GM and Jaguar have also discovered the new printing technology for their production. As a result, engineers must be prepared for the technological changes their sector holds for them. Consequently, current industry entry requirements (researchable here: intech automotive engineering jobs) are subject to constant change.

However, there are limitations to this new printing technology. The creators of the ‘Urbee 2’ have already experienced design challenges, as plastic cannot be used to display tiny details. Furthermore, once the tolling is produced and paid for, injection moulding widely used in car production, is much faster and cheaper.

Additionally, relatively long 3D printing phases – the body parts of the Urbee 2 needs a 2,500 hours printing period – compensates the appraised fitting related time savings of printed cars. These points may be the reason why the printing technology is in the moment a far cry from its implementation into mass production processes. Industry professionals  believe that this fact makes the technology rather useful for under-hood parts, prototypes and for the production of new moulds.

However, what makes the Urbee 2 so ground breaking is its lightweight construction and in turn fuel efficiency – factors which may help the 1,200 lbs vehicle setting a new Guinness world record. Its designers built the prototype of only 40 3D-printed ABS-plastic components. Clearly, the car’s chassis, engine and the roll cage around the driver are still made of metal – measures to adhere to security and stability requirements. However, using mainly plastic has weight, processing and stability advantages when compared to the steel-dominated conventional cars and their production.

Furthermore, the 10 horsepower engine of the three-wheeled, 2 passenger hybrid car can potentially run on biofuel such as Ethanol. Apparently, this fuel efficient car is the answer to shrinking fossil resources and global warming in a digitalised world. Fourteen people all over the world believe in these advantages and placed their order for one exemplar costing $50,000 already – clearly not a revolution. However, with progress made in terms of cost-effectiveness and speed, the relevance of the 3D printing technology may be rising significantly in the future.

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