Have you ever thought about how often you use your cell phone these days? About what an integral part of your life it has become? Not only has the mobile phone become one of the most important devices in most people’s lives, it is the most versatile. We don’t just use it to communicate; we use it to shop, to consume media, to take pictures and we use it to navigate the world. Car companies have always been quick to respond to new trends and fads and find ways to accommodate them into their vehicles. These days it isn’t just common but an actual requirement to include things like drink holders and smartphone cradles. But that wasn’t always the case, for owners of older and classic cars trying to find ways to accommodate modern technology and conveniences can be difficult at best.
Australian technology, software and hardware reseller Redstack decided to see if 3D printing could solve a problem that, let’s face it, only a handful of us are ever going to face. They wanted to find a way to incorporate both a cup holder and a smartphone holder into a classic Mustang without ruining the look and feel of the original design. They had the power of their imaginations, but did give themselves a small list of mandatory criteria that they needed their device to meet. First, whatever design that they came up with needed to be functional, both as a cup holder and as a smartphone holder that would allow the user to access the navigation function. It needed to match the car and be as period specific as possible. And finally, it needed to be completely removable so the car could easily be reverted to its original state for something like a car show.
Redstack designers started with Autodesk Inventor, a 3D design software suite that was designed to allow for quick prototyping and design adjustments, with each iteration being part of a chain the would go back to the original design just in case there was a need to start over from scratch. The Redstack team settled on their final design, which would use the ashtray recess as a mounting point. That would allow the custom drink and phone holder to easily be secured into place, and removed quickly. It was a great use of space, but because the measurements needed to be exact, it took the team a few tries to get a device that would hold itself into place securely.
Throughout the design process the designers used their office Ultimaker 2 3D printer to print out the prototypes using PLA so they could quickly test each of the different design iterations. Once the design was set and the fit confirmed, the Redstack team printed the device out in a high quality ABS material for durability. The remarkably simple looking device only looks out of place because there were no smartphones in the 1960s, but other than that you would be hard pressed to guess that it wasn’t part of the original design. My only real quibble would be the final material that they used — the white ABS looks a little odd next to the cream colored interior — but that wouldn’t be anything that a coat of paint couldn’t solve.
Obviously the need for drink holders in classic show cars is one of the things that isn’t going to be a problem for the majority of car owners, but for the people who do need something like this 3D printing is exactly the correct solution. Something like the device that Redstack created would never have been possible using traditional manufacturing technologies. Certainly it could have been made, but it would have cost an absurd amount of money that even Jay Leno would have balked at. But because 3D printing is considerably cheaper to use for prototyping and manufacturing ultra-low volume products it is an ideal way to customize an individual’s experience affordably.
Redstack only created their cup holder and smartphone cradle as a proof of concept so they can show prospective clients the flexibility and wide variety of uses for 3D design software and 3D printing technology. But it could also be used as proof that there are plenty of untapped markets that 3D printing can now allow to be affordably tapped. As 3D printing becomes more affordable and accessible to the general public, it is only going to be found and exploited by more clever and industrious entrepreneurs. And I personally can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Let’s hear your thoughts on this technique in the 3D Printed Classic Car Parts forum thread on 3DPB.com.