A lot has been said and written about alternative drivelines and self-driving vehicles, but there is another innovation that is becoming increasingly important within the automotive industry — 3D printing.
According to AutoTrader CEO George Mienie, this technology is quietly making inroads into the motor industry. "3D printing is taking off because it saves time, money and resources for the manufacturer. It's also making vehicles stronger and lighter," he explained.
3D printing can be used to produce automotive components, and there can be 30,000 different parts in one vehicle. In fact, 3D printing can even be used to produce an entire vehicle.
This was demonstrated back in 2014, when Local Motors — a U.S. company that specialises in low-volume vehicle manufacturing of open-source designs, debuted the world's first 3D-printed car, the Strati, at the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois. The electric car, which took a mere 44 hours to print, was test-driven on September 13 that year.
In 2016, Local Motors launched Olli — the world's first 3D-printed autonomous vehicle. Described by the company as "your friendly neighbourhood mobility solution", Olli is a driverless shuttle designed for optimal flexibility, sustainability and convenience. This electric vehicle has a range of 60km, a top speed of 40km/h and it takes 4.5 hours to charge. It can carry up to 12 people.
Also in 2016, Honda developed a short-range so-called "Micro Commuter" electric vehicle. 3D-printing techniques were used to create the exterior panels and luggage space.
Now Chinese company Polymaker and Italy-based vehicle manufacturer X Electrical Vehicle (XEV) are about to debut the first mass-produced 3D-printed electric car in the world. It is called the LSEV – which stands for low speed electric vehicle – and it's due to enter serial production in the second quarter of 2019. "All the visible parts of the car – barring the chassis, seats, and glass – are 3D printed. It takes three days to produce one car, which will sell for about $10,000 [~R116 300]," explained Mienie.
The vehicle will be displayed at the 2018 Beijing Motor Show, which takes place from April 24 to May 4.
Mienie says that motorists can expect 3D printing to have a greater and greater impact on the automotive industry. "The automotive industry is clearly recognising the benefits of 3D printing. According to SmarTech Markets Publishing, a leading U.S. provider of market research and industry analysis in the 3D printing and additive manufacturing sector, the automotive industry will spend $2.3-billion (~R26.7-billion) on 3D printers and related software by 2021. Accordingly, going forward, expect to see this technology used in more and more cars and their components," Mienie has predicted.