A century after Henry Ford revolutionized automobile production with the introduction of the assembly line for the Ford Model T, a car has been produced using a process that could prove just as revolutionary – 3D printing. Code-named, Urbee, the car is the first ever to have its entire body, including its glass panels, 3D printed. A collaborative design by Stratasys and Kor Ecologic, the Urbee is the first car ever to have its entire body printed using additive manufacturing processes.
3-D printing technology takes an image designed on a computer and prints it out as a 3D object with layers of a variety of materials. Several design software programs, some free, others for sale, including Alibre and Autodesk, allow a person to design a product on their home computer, then send the design to a company like Shapeways, which will print it and mail it back.
3-D printing is being used to build everything from costumes for movies, buildings, to even body parts (right). A 3-D printer creates an object by stacking one layer of material, typically plastic or metal, on top of another. The technology started as a tool used by designers to build prototypes and is now used to print things like iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. A California company is even working on printing houses.
3-D printers can cost from $10,000 to more than $100,000. Stratasys and 3D Systems are among the industry leaders. MakerBot is one company that sells a hobbyist kit for under $1,000.
Click on the heading above to watch a video (a commercial) that explains the 3-D printing process from one company's system.