3D printing marks out the future of car making | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 10.02.2014
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3D printing marks out the future of car making

Boston-based startup Mark One recently announced a 3D printer that can print composite materials. DW looks at how car makers are using the technology and its possible effects.

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Sandro Piroddi explains how Ford uses 3D printing

Japan-based car maker Honda has made it easy for customers to print models of their cars, using plans on Honda-3D.com. You can find the plans for the last five concept cars from Honda, download them and even modify them.

For now, it's just for fun. But it raises the question of whether the car maker - or any of its competitors, such as Ford - will release CAD (computer aided design) data and information on materials, so that customers can print their own parts for repairs.

3D printing technology is advancing at a tremendous rate. Printers are improving and getting cheaper too. But printing metals and composite materials has been a challenge for manufacturers and hardcore DIYers. But that's about to change.

A 3D printer at the Maker Faire in Hannover in August 2013.

Despite the evolving technology, car makers might not be ready to let customers print their own parts

A 3D printer that allows users to print composite materials, created by Boston-based startup Mark One, could revolutionize what users are able to print.

It wants to make it possible for users to print complex materials - made of various substances. Despite launching at a cost of $5,000, the price tag isn't astronomical.

Still, there's a good chance that car producers will be reluctant to put their CAD plans for their vehicles online. Ford Motors, for instance, says it has no such plans. However, in the future, select plans could be released to mechanics, who would then be allowed to print parts, says Sandro Piroddi of Ford Europe.

But we're still only talking parts - and not an entire car. Car makers have yet to print an entire - roadworthy - car themselves. So it's a little early to expect. But it will happen, sooner rather than later.

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