We were about 15 kilometers east of Limerick, Ireland when our tire blew out. So we melted the old tire into the 3D replicator, printed a new one and we were on our way.
Actually, no– we limped along on a dodgy spare until we found a tire shop open the night before Saint Patrick’s day. If this had been one of the more esoteric car parts, we might have waited weeks for it to be shipped from Japan. Objet Geometries (Rehovot, Israel) wants to change the way automobile parts are manufactured. Their 3D printed dashboard has been touring the world as a component of the crowdsourced Streetscooter electric car.
3D printing or replication (read here about how it’s used to make bowls from sand) uses a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file to build up or carve out a real-world object. This technology could lead to a greener product manufacturing and consumption.
For example, 3D printing:
- Can utilize greener materials such as plant-based biodegradable PLA plastics, paper and even sand.
- Wastes less material than injection molding, milling and other traditional manufacturing techniques.
- Reduces the distance products and replacement parts must be shipped.
- Allows consumers to reshape and recycle end-of-life products.
- Enables architects and designers to rapidly to prototype green concepts.
The scale of the printed object is limited by the size of the printer. Objet found it necessary to break their Streetscooter dashboard design into several smaller objects which were then assembled into the finished product.
But people are experimenting with 3D printing of construction materials and entire buildings. At the other end of the scale, researchers at the Vienna University of Technology used a laser to print a nanoscale race car, the width of a human hair.
3D printing is where desktop publishing was in the 1980s. Hobbyists such as these in Bahrain are only beginning to experiment with the possibilities of home replication.
By bringing manufacturing closer to home and empowering consumers to replace mass-production with mass customization, this technology could create a greener relationship between producers and consumers.
Dashboard photo from Objet Geometries
Microscopic car photo copyright TU Wien