If you’ve ever owned a vehicle, which all of us have, then you know the frustrations of dealing with a little broken piece of plastic. For example, the dial knob sticks and you’re stuck listening to AM radio on your morning commute. Or worse, the little lever that controls your vent has snapped, and now permanently blows ice-cold air on your passenger and not you. Well, thankfully, there’s a hot new automotive trend firing up that could save a lot of time, money and headaches for both suppliers and consumers alike: 3D-printed parts.
Historically, making, distributing and purchasing spare parts has been an arduous process for everyone involved. It’s costly for manufacturers to store spare parts that may never be purchased, and it’s costly for consumers to have to purchase a set of parts, versus the individual one they need. However, with the increasing popularization of 3D printing, the horizon is looking much brighter. Due to the ease and versatility of 3D printing, manufacturers will be able to make and send parts on an on-demand basis, decreasing manufacturing roadblocks along the way. People could even begin purchasing their own 3D printers, downloading pre-coded plans for parts and printing in their own garages. At least, on a smaller scale for radio knobs and vent levers.
So, if 3D printing is so easy, how come it hasn’t been implemented in the auto industry? Well, a couple reasons. For one: 3D printing sounds easy, but is actually quite complex. Much like with any auto part, a lot of precise planning and designing goes into its creation, and even the slightest inconsistency can result in a faulty part. Another reason 3D printing isn’t readily available is the durability of materials. Even the highest quality plastics, such as ABS, polypropylene, and polycarbonate, parts made with layers of melted plastic, aren’t as strong as injection-molded parts. Which is why companies, like Vader Systems and their MK1 Metal Printer, are flooring it toward the finish line in hopes of creating stronger, more stable parts. But will they win the race?
According to a study conducted by Strategy&, “3D printing has advanced and grown into a technology with a market size that reached US $5.1 billion in 2015. It has seen an average annual growth rate of 30 percent over the last four years.” They predict that, within five years, more than 85 percent of spare parts suppliers will incorporate 3D printing into their business. We guess it’s true what they say: it doesn’t get more fantastic than plastic.
At Caliber, we’re always so fascinated with how the auto world we know and love continues to evolve. And the introduction of 3D-printed parts is something we’re excited to be a part of. After all, we don’t care how the parts are created, as long as they’re made responsibly, safely and get your car back to performing perfectly. Sure, it’s just a few plastic dashboard buttons for now, but when they start 3D-printing the big stuff, you bet we’ll be first in line to install them and get you back to the rhythm of your life.