3D printing has been a boon to the automotive industry, not just because it’s a transformative process for the industrial manufacturing of high quality components, but also because prototyping allows for such latitude–and speed–in creation and testing, not to mention easy, affordable re-designs and re-fits.
In a project between UK additive manufacturing expert KW Special Projects (KWSP) and sister company, KW Motorsport (KWM), it was a mix between industrial and hobbyist interests as the two decided to put their talents together in restoring a 1927 Amilcar C6, a French sportscar. They also made a clear demonstration of the magic 3D printing offers, in producing a car part no longer in existence by way of only one hint: a black and white photo of the antique gear selector housing.
While certainly the world will continue to survive without one more car or one more hard-to-find part, it’s interesting to ask ourselves how they ever would have pulled this off without 3D printing.
KWSP offers high performance engineering services for vehicles, specializing in tackling innovative challenges. Their massive office and R&D workshop are in the UK’s Motorsport Valley, which is home to over 1000 other companies which comprise the ‘High Performance Technologies Cluster.’
In getting ready to take on this project, they enlisted their nearby sister company, KW Special Projects, realizing it was a job suited for the expertise of their engineers.
The team used what little existing data was available to begin designing the new part in SOLIDWORKS. They then used a combination of 3D printing and aluminum casting to bring the component ‘back to life.’
“Using Solidworks CAD software, we converted the scan data into useful CAD files that gave us the mechanical interfaces and geometry to begin designing the new cover,” said Kieron Salter, managing director of KWSP. “Because the original castings were manufactured from handmade patterns, there are not many exact features within the cover that can be predicted.”
“Also, the new ergonomic position of the gearshift via the remote linkage was not easy to predict, so we not only had to reverse engineer the casing, but also its installation in the car and the hard objects such as the dash bulkhead and steering wheel in order to get the positioning correct.”
It’s not exactly clear why that part was used in the original design of the French automobile, but the engineers surmised it was a customization made at the time to offer more comfort in driving.
“This was a unique project that demanded not only technical know-how of the latest AM techniques, but also creativity and intuition,” Salter explained. “Using AM instead of conventional manufacturing methods, our engineers were able to design and make parts quickly and cost effectively using 3D printing technology. This approach enabled us to fit a printed prototype into the actual vehicle to ensure it met with the design brief, fitted perfectly into the cockpit and also gained the owner’s approval.”
With the sky being the only limit as far as we can see with 3D printing, this means no car ever has to go to the automotive graveyard again. No longer is the engineer or designer lumbering back to ‘the drawing board’ in despair these days, and no longer does anyone have to settle for second best due to deadline or budget constraints. And not only that, it’s no secret that most automotive hobbyists are having an awfully good time messing around with parts and cars–3D printing or not.
Have you 3D printed any automotive parts? Tell us about it, as well as your thoughts on how engineers designed the 3D printed part in this article in the 3D Printed Antique Gear Selector Housing forum over at 3DPB.com.