03

Why You Need to Get a 3D Printer!

by Nikita Rushmanov

 

Why do you need a 3D printer? A better question would be, why haven’t you got one yet? 3D printing has long been hailed as the “next big thing in tech”, and it’s for a good reason. It allows you to manufacture parts for literally pennies, without any tooling and setup costs, which can’t be said about other manufacturing methods, such as injection molding or CNC machining. In addition, with printing, you can make parts that just can’t be manufactured by other methods. Because the object is built from scratch by depositing material where it needs to go, rather than starting with raw stock and cutting it to shape, you can build completely enclosed objects that have cavities inside of them. Even casting or injection molding can’t match the geometric possibilities that printing offers you. A 3D printer is one of those tools that just seems to have endless possibilities. If you can dream it, you can make it.

 

Here is a list of some of the things I have made with my printer so far:

  • Custom spacers (for testing wheel offsets)
  • Prototype offset rack spacers
  • Camber gauge
  • X-brace jig (helps make perfectly straight roll cage X’s)
  • Tube rotation gauge (for measuring the angle between bend planes when bending roll cage tubing)
  • Custom hood hinges
  • Clutch/brake pedal switch buttons
  • Tire machine clamp base covers
  • Cheetah (bead blaster) lip cover
  • Replacement windshield wiper mounts
  • Replacement keyboard legs
  • Door lock knob
  • PCB enclosures
  • Gas pedal lock (prevents the gas pedal from pivoting on s13’s, super annoying)
  • Random mounting clips
  • Custom candle holders
  • Alignment string holding brackets
  • Intercooler mounting brackets
  • Rear windshield wiper hole plug
  • Giant fender washers.

 

Yep, that’s a 3D printed wheel spacer. You can print spacers of exact width to test fit wheel fitment before you buy new wheels. In this particular case, I was building a set of custom wheels so I could maximize clearance for Wisefab. I had a wheel on hand which was an 18x9+35, and I wanted to see what the coilover clearance would be like with an 18x9.5+19, which would sit 9.7mm further away from the coilover. I was able to print a spacer that was exactly 9.7mm thick, and verify that my barrel would indeed clear the coilover by less than a hair. If I wasn’t able to print a custom spacer, it would have been impossible to tell if the wheel would have cleared or not, because the gap was that small.

There are a couple of downsides to 3D printing, however. For one, you are limited to mostly plastic or plastic-like materials (unless you pay a lot of money), which obviously aren’t as strong as aluminum or steel. This fact alone can make a printer seem fairly limited in capabilities, however, you can often design your parts to accept raw metal stock to strengthen it in load bearing areas. Printers are also very finicky. They require constant tinkering with settings to get quality prints (this largely depends on how nice your printer is), and you have to “retune” it every time you switch to a different filament, as different filaments have different properties. Also, despite the fact that printing offers extraordinary capabilities, it does have limitations in geometry, specifically with overhangs. Since printing relies on depositing new material on top of old, it struggles when you have overhangs or bridges, where the printer is forced to print “mid-air” instead of on existing material, often requiring you to print supports which you have to remove after the print is done. Lastly, printers really struggle with dimensional accuracy. For complex designs, it usually takes me 2-3 prints to get a part that actually fits. Melting plastic is never going to achieve the same accuracy that a CNC mill is capable of, so you have to constantly play around with the dimensions in CAD after each print until you get it right. For example, if I want a 6mm hole, I usually have to actually make a 6.25mm hole in CAD for it to print a 6mm hole. 

 

A perfect example of how you can get around the strength limitations of plastic is this hood hinge that I made. There is no way to make a hinge support the weight of a hood with ABS plastic, so I utilized a pressed in steel 6mm shaft for the pivot to support the weight. Why, you might ask, did I have to make a custom hood hinge? Well, that’s because I bought a hood from JpFiberglass, which sat 6mm higher than stock and made the car look like it had hood risers. This custom “super low profile” hood hinge was the solution, and yes, it actually worked!

There is a wide variety of filaments that you can print with, such as Polycarbonate, ABS and PLA plastics, super flexible rubber like filaments such as Ninjaflex, ASA polymer plastics, copolyester composites, and there are even conductive filaments. The two most common materials are ABS and PLA, with most people preferring PLA because it’s a lot easier to get quality prints with it. However, if you are printing parts for use in cars, I strongly suggest to stick with ABS, as it’s a lot more temperature stable. PLA plastics can melt if you just leave them inside your car on a sunny day, on the other hand, I have ABS plastics directly bolted onto my engine block and they are holding up just fine.

 

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Comments
StrangeLiform
StrangeLiformlink
Tuesday, July 04, 2017 11:03 AM
One of the best applications for 3D printing in the world of automotive performance tuning is the ability to 3D print electrical connectors.

One of the bigger hurdles to installing an after-market ECU into a modern street car are the bigass electrical connectors that plug the harness into the ECU. These are usually "harvested" from an OEM ECU which is an expensive and wasteful process. It is much better to 3D print fresh connectors. Once the dimensions are dialed in you can get as many as you need and they work every bit as well as the OEM units.

An enterprising fellow named Brandon Vazquez has done exactly that for the V6 version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. It has really helped open up tuning possibilities for that car. There is now the possibility of plug-and-play compatibility for both the Haltech Elite 2500 ECU as well as the MoTeC M150 on the Genesis Coupe platform.

The 3D-printed harness connectors look great and work brilliantly. I think this is an area where 3D printing is going to see drastically increased use in the future.

http://www.blackbirdeng.com/printing-automotive-ecu-connectors.html
cheechthechi
cheechthechilink
Wednesday, July 05, 2017 12:30 AM
Great article. There are exciting things happening in the maker and open source movements that car people should start using. Glad to see an article on 3D printing.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Wednesday, July 05, 2017 9:05 AM
Another fun thing is what happens when you apply investment casting to 3d printed objects. Working on semi-productionizing a few things, heh heh heh.
warmmilk
warmmilklink
Wednesday, July 05, 2017 12:51 PM
I'll buy one in a few years when they get much cheaper
Benjamin
Benjaminlink
Thursday, July 06, 2017 10:21 AM
No need to buy a 3D printer when websites like Shapeways.com exist!
I use it right now to make a custom intake tube on a Boxster.
8695Beaters
8695Beaterslink
Thursday, July 06, 2017 1:37 PM
3D printing is becoming common in the OEM world for prototyping. My day job just picked up a high end 3D printer and we are using it to test out ECU packaging ideas. It gives us a chance to test fit our parts before we make an investment in actual casting and stamping dies. It really saves cost and shortens development time. We are also using our 3D printer for building programming fixtures for prototype ECUs. We used to have to machine them from Delrin which was expensive and time consuming. Now we just 3D print them in a few hours.

We are not planning to use 3D printing for mass production anytime soon, but for test fitting, prototyping, and software development, 3D printing is a HUGE cost and time saver.
JAWhitehead
JAWhiteheadlink
Thursday, July 06, 2017 1:46 PM
PLA would be perfect for Lost Wax-style casting if you need an aluminum part.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost-wax_casting
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Friday, July 07, 2017 7:21 AM
http://i.imgur.com/CDH8D8o.jpg <-- PLA *is* about perfect for lost-wax style casting. I did that for a secret santa last year with my homebrew foundry. I'm trying to go from 3d printed patterns to using the 3d printed piece to make a silicone female mold that I can pour wax into, to get away from having to 3d print one copy per copy.
Adam
Adamlink
Friday, July 07, 2017 8:29 AM
I don't know how much more affordable they can get. You can find good quality turn key printers that can print smaller objects (like shown in the article) for around $100 now. There are DIY printers that have a print volume of 12"x12"x12" for around $500 that, when set-up, put to shame most big name consumer printers costing four times as much.
I have unlimited access to a Makerbot 5th Gen with all the latest parts and updates, but my personally owned FT-5 gets all of our attention because it just flat out does a better job.
cartechs
cartechslink
Friday, July 07, 2017 10:31 AM
I think you are going to find your harness brackets are going to melt. PLA and ABS do not do well with heat.

Don't get too excited, the structural integrity of 3D printed parts not at the same level as an injection molded plastic part. Printed plastic parts are excellent for prototype test fitment and low stress/cosmetic parts. But I would never use one for structural purposes.
Truckinduc
Truckinduclink
Friday, July 07, 2017 11:11 AM
I printed a throttle body adapter from polycarbonate abs that currently lives on my miata. Granted a throttle body shouldnt get as hot as the timing chain cover it still heat soaks and gets pretty damn hot. so far so good.
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