Photo by Samantha Ketterer

By now most of us have heard of 3-D printing and know it's possible to print things like Legos. But did you know you can print an organ, a dress, even something as big as a car?

Yes, 3-D printing a vehicle is possible, and Houston got a peek at the results last week. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory unveiled a full-size, 3-D-printed Shelby Cobra at the JECamericas Composites Show and Conferences at the George R. Brown, showing off a striking blue car shined to perfection. More than just a pretty car, it's a “laboratory on wheels" that allows the industry to test parts and make further advancements in the field. Manufacturers are using the latest innovative technologies as a way of trying out new gear, instead of spending money on real parts that might not end up being useful.

This is how 3-D printing works: the designer first creates a virtual model of an object, which is then split up into multiple horizontal layers (it could be hundreds). These two-dimensional layers are then combined to make the new 3-D object. For a large object like a car, the printer separates the vehicle into parts, after which they must be assembled. The process is (fairly) inexpensive, minus the cost of the actual printer. While a 3-D printer for warehouse use could cost up to $200,000, the printing itself is way less. The Shelby Cobra cost approximately $250 to print, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

JEC Group CEO Frederique Mutel said the market for composites—durable building materials that allow for the printing of more high-strength solid objects—is currently valued at $73 billion, with the US highest on the development curve. It looks like things are just getting started. 

 

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