For years, 3D printers have been used to create many small components of larger designs. For example, Ford touted last year that they now lead the industry in their ability to 3D print any car component. Today, the technology has advanced to the point that large scale objects can be built, for example, a car. The first step in creating a 3D object, is to design and upload the 3D design. Once the design is uploaded, a layer of powder is applied to a platform base and a laser fuses the material together at the exact specifications of the 3D print design. As the design progresses, the platform slowly drops lower, exposing only the top layer of the object. All the excess powder is reusable, eliminating the excess waste that comes with traditional milling work.
Many companies currently use 3D printing to speed up their prototype process, not necessarily to build their finished products. However, with the development of newer and stronger materials, the 3D printing aspect has gone from prototype to production. There are several benefits to 3D printing. Components consisting of 10-15 parts, can now be created with one part. This increases the strength of the component as well as reduces the overall weight of the part. Some of the benefits to using 3D printing in production are that it has the potential to cut cost and drastically reduce the amount of materials used.
For example, the average car has around 2,000 components. The LSEV, which is a 3D printed automobile, uses around 40-60 components. The only downside for the LSEV is that it takes 3 days to 3D print the vehicle. On average a traditional vehicle can be put together in about 17-18 hours (Source: Toyota).
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