3D printers as the latest in rapid prototyping technology are used by many car companies, including VW to design and develop cars and parts in cars.
Such 3D printers allow designers to print prototype parts direct from 3D CAD files to be tested and used in larger prototypes and also scale models. In the past prototypes would be hand made and often of a much less versatile foam or similar, they would also take a team of rapid prototyping model makers a day or so to complete usually: holding up production.
VW are one such car company who have benefitted from using 3D printers, which are supplied to them by 3D systems, they are now though putting their rapid prototyping technology into the hands of customers.
Customers don’t all want exactly the same car and there are thousands of different iterations of VW’s Polo model. In a brochure different options can be added such as different body shapes and colors but they can’t easily be seen all at once.
The rapid prototyping printers that VW used to develop the latest Polo are from 3D Systems’ Z Corporation division, a company they recently took over. The Z printer offering from Z Corporation is a full color 3D printer as well meaning full color models can be printed with any design on them with full detail. VW are now giving customers the chance to get their designs made.
Through VW’s Polo Principles website customers can create any design they want with a clever but easy to use online tool: they can then click ‘Build my Polo’ to enter their design into a competition where the best 40 designs will be printed on the Z Printer to be sent to their designers as their own physical prototype.
Out of those 40 prototypes VW will also make one into reality, no matter how wacky the design is, and the designer will themselves get to drive it for two months before Polo use it in other promotional events and potentially even advertising.
VW claim they are democratizing ‘one of the innovations that make the innovations’ with this competition and 3D systems as well believe that 3D printers real potential is as a disruptive technology, available to everyone and for much more than Rapid Prototyping.
In the future 3D Printers will increasingly be used for manufacturing either finished products or parts to actually be used by the people who print them who may have a 3D printer at home or use one at a local 3D printing service.
Some companies may fear the coming of such a disruptive technology but VW clearly embrace it; the value of their intellectual property though will become increasingly what is important: especially when they can sell designs for spare parts that people can then have made up locally or even have local service centers and dealers equipped to make parts on demand: saving VW from having to have a network of parts centers stocking endless parts.