There is no denying that the most widespread use case for 3D printing is to print decorative objects, such as figurines, as the combination of 3D printing and post-processing essentially allows you to manufacture anything, such as your favorite video game character, with a quality that can be comparable to, or even better than, what you find on the market.
On the other hand, there is actually an incredible number of different objects with functional purposes you can manufacture with the process of 3D printing to make life easier, which becomes especially apparent once you look around yourself and think of the things that would be a great addition to your daily life.
In today’s article, we will be exploring one of the more exciting opportunities in 3D printing by examining the possibility of 3D printing car parts in particular, which, at first look, seems to be a fantastic idea considering that cars contain many custom plastic parts that are hard to find and that the main strength of 3D printing is to manufacture custom parts cheaply and efficiently.
So, is it possible to 3D print your own car parts?
It’s entirely possible to 3D print your own car parts, as long as they are non-essential parts that aren’t directly related to the operation and the safety of the car, such as control knobs, fan grills, speaker covers, and anything else that you can think of in the same vein.
Next up, we will be diving deeper into the process of 3D printing car parts, find out which car parts are possible to 3D print, go through the best filament option for 3D printing car parts, discuss whether it’s possible to 3D print the metal car parts, and finally, learn about how 3D printing is used in the automotive industry.
3D Printing Car Parts – Is It Possible?
As cars contain many plastic parts that eventually break due to wear and tear and essentially become impossible to replace due to them not being manufactured anymore unless your vehicle is new, 3D printing does look like it can be the solution to the problem at first look.
As long as you avoid replacing the parts that are essential for your car’s safety or necessary for your car to work with 3D printed alternatives, 3D printing car parts is perfectly possible and a fantastic way to replace the hard-to-find plastic parts in your car with custom-fitted components.
Especially for older cars, where the plastic parts become more and more prone to breakage and also harder to find as time passes, 3D printing such car parts that you require is usually both much more cost-efficient and also much more straightforward than going through the process of finding the correct replacements.
One thing worth mentioning, which can be considered a slight drawback, is that producing the exact component you need through 3D printing may also require some 3D modeling skills, as it may not always be possible to find a pre-designed 3D model file for the particular part you need, especially if it’s on the rarer side.
Which Car Parts Can You 3D Print?
Since the parts that you 3D print at home cannot be suitable replacements for any of the critical components that are essential for the car to function for safety reasons, it’s vital to be careful about the parts you intend to replace with 3D printed alternatives.
The vital point to keep in mind while 3D printing car parts is to avoid printing any component that is critical for the operation or the safety of the car, as such components are carefully designed and produced with many factors in mind, which makes the usage of simple 3D printer parts unsuitable and unsafe.
On the other hand, you can feel free to 3D print any non-critical car part, as a potential issue with such components does not pose a threat to the operation or the safety of the car, meaning that as long as they fit into their place and fulfill the intended purpose, you won’t have any problems.
Some examples of non-critical car parts you can 3D print with ease would be fan grills, speaker covers, control knobs, gear shift knobs, and hood latch handles, which will most likely be much simpler to replace with a 3D printed part than finding the correct replacement on the market.
Alongside parts that are directly supposed to replace the components of the car that already exist, it’s also possible to 3D print some car accessories that will make your life easier, such as smartphone and tablet holders, bag hangers, vent clips, and cup holders.
Which Filament Is Best for 3D Printing Car Parts?
As each filament has different qualities that make it suitable for distinct purposes, choosing the filament that would work the best for 3D printing car parts is vital to ensure that the components you have printed fulfill their duties.
While the optimal choice can vary based on the exact use case, our primary filament recommendation for 3D printing car parts, in general, would be ABS, as it’s durable, resistant to impact and resistant to heat, and relatively easy to print compared to its alternatives, which are essentially the qualities that you would want in a car part.
Even though there are other filaments that fulfill these conditions and even exceed what ABS offers in some factors, such as Polycarbonate, ASA, and Nylon, these filaments are much more demanding to print due to their hard requirement of using an all-metal hotend, which may not make them feasible options for everyone.
Finally, if you are unable to print with any of the filaments we have mentioned above, our following recommendation would be to use PETG (try to avoid PLA as much as possible to be on the safe side due to low durability and low heat resistance), which can most likely get the job done in the majority of the cases, and also is practically the least-demanding filament to print, excluding PLA.
Can You 3D Print the Metal Car Parts?
While there are many plastic parts you can 3D print for your car, plastic only makes up for a fraction of a car’s components, raising the question of whether it’s also possible to 3D print car parts made of metal.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to 3D print the metal parts of your car with a consumer-grade 3D printer, as such printers are not capable of printing metal, and even if they were, such components are produced by combining highly-advanced machinery and careful engineering, which would essentially be impossible to replicate at home.
While we don’t know what the future may bring, printing the non-critical, plastic parts of a car is all that is possible with the consumer-grade 3D printers that we currently use.
Is 3D Printing Used in the Automotive Industry?
While we usually talk about 3D printing in the context of using a 3D printer at home, primarily for hobby purposes, many industries also benefit from 3D printing in various ways to increase efficiency.
Even though it’s not possible to mass-produce fully 3D printed cars that meet the industry standards, at least for now, 3D printing is indeed widely used in the automotive industry for various purposes, as it offers a more effective way of performing some particular tasks, such as:
- Rapid prototyping – 3D printing makes it possible for automotive companies to quickly create a prototype of any car part, and in some cases, even the car itself (in a miniature form), which is used for testing purposes before mass production.
- Creation of production tools – With 3D printing, automotive companies are able to produce custom production tools, such as jigs, that make the production process more time-efficient, cost-efficient, and error-free.
- Manufacturing of spare parts whenever necessary – Instead of having to keep an inventory of spare parts at all times, especially for older cars that don’t see a lot of demand anymore, automotive companies are able to keep digital designs of each component and quickly 3D print them whenever necessary.
It’s also worth noting that the 3D printers used in the automotive industry (industrial-grade 3D printers) are much different than any consumer-grade 3D printer you have seen on the market in many areas, whether it’s the size of the device, the durability, and the precision of the materials that it produces, and the materials that it can utilize.
Thinking about the possibility of 3D printing car parts is definitely an exciting one, especially considering that being able to 3D print some particular car parts would be a lot more efficient and budget-friendly than finding replacements on the market.
To quickly recap, as long as it’s not a part that is essential for your car to function and stay safe, you can feel free to 3D print any plastic part of your choice, whether it’s to replace a broken one that you can’t find an alternative for anymore, or purely for customization purposes.
As the non-critical plastic parts of a car, such as fan grills and control knobs, are essentially bound to become damaged or even break due to wear and tear over prolonged usage, utilizing your 3D printer to replace them is pretty much the perfect solution.