3D Printed Cars Are Changing the Industry (Including YOUR Insurance)

3D printed cars are built of parts up to 20% stronger and 40% lighter than standard car parts. 3D printers can also make classic car parts that aren't produced anymore.

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Zaneta Wood, Ed.S. has over 15 years of experience in research and technical writing bringing a keen understanding of data analysis and information synthesis to reach a wide variety of audiences. She studied adult education and instructional technology at Appalachian State University as well as technical and professional communication at East Carolina University. Zaneta has prepared technical p...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP®

UPDATED: Aug 31, 2021

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Here's what you need to know...

  • Car manufacturers have been using the 3D printing technology production process for twenty years
  • Historically, 3D printing has the edge for producing prototype vehicles while traditional manufacturing wins for mass production
  • GM has partnered with a software design company to 3D print a specific part for road models

Car manufacturers have been using 3D printing for two decades. Up until recently, prototyping was the main function of 3D printing for vehicles.

For prototype vehicles, 3D printers are capable of making the unique car parts and even nearly complete cars more inexpensively than traditional means which include retooling the production line to even make one of each new part.

If a part needs to be tweaked, the printer can be easily reprogrammed.

Despite the high cost of using a 3D printer, these printers win for producing unique car parts, but where mass production parts are concerned, traditional methods have had a clear advantage.

The extra time spent retooling the line is more than made up for by the speed and cost by which the parts are manufactured in large quantities.

The 3D printing world could very well turn the automotive industries upside down as printers become more efficient the balance of time and cost of large-scale projects begins to even out between printers and traditional manufacturing methods.

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#1 – Recent Breakthroughs

General Motors recently collaborated with Autodesk, a design software company, to manufacture 3D printed low-production parts for street models. This step towards mass production demonstrates a leap of progress for 3D printing solutions.

Specifically, the piece being produced is a seat bracket. Using traditional manufacturing, this part is made of eight separate pieces created by several manufacturers and then welded together.

When GM weighed the cost of 3D printing this bracket with the cost of traditional manufacturing, they determined printing had the edge.

As for the future production, engineers will need to evaluate each part and determine which method of manufacturing is better.

In an interview with The Drive, David Darovitz, product spokesperson for GM, said, “We may choose to invest more to 3D print a part if the added value in terms of performance merits the additional cost. If a traditional manufacturing process is less expensive than 3D printing and there is not substantial performance benefit, then traditional manufacturing processes will be used.”

The following are the benefits of the 3D printed seat bracket when compared to its traditionally manufactured counterpart:

  • It is printed as one piece rather than eight pieces
  • It is 40 percent lighter
  • It is 20 percent stronger

GM has promised to add 20 electric vehicles to their lineup in the next five years. The lighter a vehicle, the more efficient it is, and efficiency is critical to making dependable electric vehicles.

Perhaps 3D printing will be the key to producing GM’s electric models.

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#2 – Future Changes

Innovators are pushing 3D printing forward and are creating faster and more efficient production.

The Use of Metal

While plastics are the primary material printed with 3D technology, metal is the runner-up thanks to direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). GE Aviation is using DMLS to print injectors for their LEAP jet engines and plans to produce 35,000 injectors per year using this method.

Fully Printed Vehicles

Several companies have designed 3D printed vehicles. The cost-reward for this type of manufacturing has not reached the balance necessary for mass production, but the technology is progressing to take the world toward mainstream reliance on the 3D printer.

Local Motors created the Strati in just 44 hours. The Strati is a driveable vehicle whose body was manufactured solely by 3D printing. The wheels and battery were created traditionally and added.

Even with the speed in which the Strati was produced, it has its downside.

  • It’s not an appropriate vehicle type for the average American
  • Even if every car manufacturer produced one vehicle per 44 hours, they could not keep up with demand — Ford alone produces a vehicle every five seconds
  • The cost of this manufacturing make it unrealistic for the vast majority of the population to purchase

Car Parts No Longer Produced

One of the greatest assets of a 3D printer is its ability to print parts for classic vehicles. For those wishing to restore an antique car, finding parts can be nearly impossible, and as proven above, creating single parts is time-consuming and expensive.

With technology, the part that needs to be replaced can be scanned and a new part can be printed.

Michelin Reinvented the Wheel (Kinda)

Michelin has completely reinvented the car wheel which they plan to have available for purchase in the next 10 years. This wheel has a honeycomb design and the tread is applied with a 3D printer.

The tread can be recycled when it is worn out and new tread can then be printed.

#3 – Current Car Insurance Changes (and Predictions for the Future)

With only a very few parts in vehicles being created using 3D printing on the horizon, there will not be any significant change to your car insurance in the near future as a result of 3D printing.

In the distant future, 3D printing could lead to savings.

  • Lower car costs equal lower insurance costs.
  • If car parts prove to be stronger when printed, they will be less likely to be damaged. Less risk of damage equals lower car insurance rates.
  • If repair shops have their own printers in the future, they may be able to create the necessary parts in-house and save on shipping, manufacturing, and assembly costs. Cheaper repairs equal cheaper premiums.

As in the case of GM and the seat brackets, less expensive parts will lead to less expensive cars, and less expensive cars cost less to insure.

The need for stronger, lighter vehicles manufactured with less waste will drive car manufacturers to achieve more and more efficient production avenues, and 3D printing is a promising route.

While technology is advancing, you will most likely not be driving a printed vehicle for a few years, yet. There are ways to save TODAY and the easiest way to get started to compare car insurance quotes.

Enter your zip code below for free quotes to see how much you could save.

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