Will your next car be 3D printed?

A lot of things are uncertain about the future of the automotive industry, with manufacturers still undecided on how vehicles will be fuelled as competition between hybrid, electric and hydrogen offerings heats up. 

As the only constant in life is change, one thing is for sure: fleet managers are likely to be responsible for very different vehicles in a decade's time. 

Along with changing fuels and engine configurations, the way vehicles are manufactured could also evolve. The leading alternative to traditional methods is 3D printing, which is currently allowing everyone from backyard inventors to established companies design, prototype and build all-new creations. 

The technology is already resonating with early adopters, as research expert International Data Corporation discovered that 90 per cent of respondents to its survey on the technology consider themselves "very satisfied" with the developments. 

Local Motors, global solution

American company Local Motors is aiming to be the world leader when it comes to creating widely-available 3D printed cars, proving the technology will disrupt established automotive manufacturers in the process. 

Currently, the vehicle is still not ready for sale, as it is subject to approval from US motoring governing bodies. However, working prototypes have been produced, so there is potential for it to make a strong impression on the industry once all the legal boxes are ticked. 

The Strati - the company's first vehicle - can be 3D printed in 44 hours, a timeframe the development team is expecting to reduce to less than 24 hours as the project progresses. Of course, not quite everything on the car is 3D printed, and components such as the engine and suspension are sourced from Renault's latest entry to the green car market, the Twizy. 

Essentially, everything that can be produced as a single piece of 3D printed material is manufactured in this process, including the chassis and body panels. 

Established manufacturers take notice

3D printing isn't just being used by upstart companies looking to disrupt the status quo, as is evidenced by Ford's recent acquisition of 3D printing company Carbon3D. 

According to Carbon3D, Ford has been using similar processes in the prototyping phase of design for more than 20 years. Now, the company is exploring new additive manufacturing processes for creating parts for its road cars. With the help of Carbon3D, Ford is expecting to make this an integral part of its manufacturing process in the coming years.