If you are an old car enthusiast, you know how hard it sometimes is to find the parts that you need to restore your vintage dreams. Help is on the way. There is new technology on the market that will allow you to recreate any part or tool that you need. This technology can be found in the form of 3D printing. Not only can it do the job that you are looking for, but your creation may only cost you a fraction of what you would normally expect to pay.

What Is 3D Printing?

Simply put, 3D printing is a way to make a solid physical object from a digital three dimensional file. This is done through an additive manufacturing process in which multiple layers of materials are laid down, or applied by an industrial robot or printer.

While this process is recently gaining strongholds in many markets, and is becoming much less expensive, the technology has been in development since the early 1980s. It arrived in commercial markets in the early 1990s and was called fused deposition modeling (FDM). It was not until the mid 1990s that the term 3D printing was used. This process has given industries an alternative method to machining in the development of materials.

What Are The Methods Of 3D Printing?

There are several different methods of 3D printing. These vary not only in the types of materials that are being applied to the model, but also the manners in which they are applied. Some of these methods are:

Direct 3D printing - Just like your inkjet printer at home, Direct 3D printing moves multiple print heads back and forth. Instead of spraying ink on your paper, they spray multiple layers of thick waxes and plastic polymers. These layers build upon each other until the project is created.

Binder 3D printing - This works like Direct printing, but the difference is that the jets spray two different materials. One is a fine powder, while the other is a type of glue or binder. Once these materials make contact with each other, they solidify allowing the layers to be created. This process is used with a wider variety of materials, including some metals and ceramics.

Photo-polymerization - This method sprays drops of liquid plastic in the presence of ultraviolet light. Once the plastic has been exposed for a short period of time, it turns the liquid into a solid. This is repeated layer by layer until the model is complete.

Selective Laser Sintering - Using a laser, a flame retardant plastic powder is melted which then forms a single layer. This is also done repeatedly until the model is done.

How Does It Work?

  • Step 1 - All models begin with a computer aided design (CAD) software. Not only will the software help you to create your model, but may give you insight into the structural integrity of your model.
  • Step 2 - Convert your drawing into standard tessellation language (STL) which is the format used for 3D systems.
  • Step 3 - Transfer your file to the 3D printer.  
  • Step 4 - Set up and prepare your machine for your print job. This includes adding all of the materials that your machine will use during the process.
  • Step 5 - Hit start and sit back and watch the machine work. Depending on the complexity of your design this could be minutes, hours, or even days. 
  • Step 6 - Remove your piece from the machine. 
  • Step 7 - Clean up or process your piece. The amount of clean up will depend on the type of materials that you use. Some materials will require additional time to cure or set up. Once this is done, your piece is ready to be used.

The Future Is Here

As you see, printing is no longer just ink on paper. Although it may seem very futuristic to some, 3D printing is already giving companies the ability to create auto parts and tools. 

  • Several car companies have already used 3D printing to create some of their parts, and in turn, have saved their company large amounts of money.
  • Joe Gibbs used 3D manufacturing to create a part he needed so that he could race.
  • The Urbee 2 is a whole car in which every component that the driver touches would be made by a 3D printer. While not in production yet, 3D manufacturing would provide this vehicle with components so lightweight that the vehicle would be capable of getting incredible mileage. This just gives you an idea of where the industry can go with this.

The automotive industry, maybe even companies like JB Tool Sales Inc., is not the only ones using this technology. GE is using the process to create parts for its turbofan engines, and NASA has sent 3D parts into space. It also has many uses in many other fields.

This technology is not just for concept cars. Whole cars can be scanned and the parts can be recreated to be an exact replica. This may not sit well with some of the purists in the restoration world, but it may be the only way to get some of the parts that may no longer exist. The technology will allow you to create the parts that you need, and it may prove to be a way to make some of the parts even better. 

Once very expensive, and only available to large companies, there are some home models that are priced in the same market as a personal computer or a laptop. The next time that you look for car parts or car tools that you may need, if you cannot find them for sale, you may consider creating them.