Honda shows 3D-printed custom cars may be just around the corner

Honda and Kabuku 3D-print electric delivery car for narrow Japanese roads

3D printers aren’t as common a household item as the inkjet (unless you’re a 30-something creative type living in a loft in San Francisco or Brooklyn), but 3D printing is slowly becoming cheaper and larger in scale. Printable items are growing from small trinkets to pieces that can be assembled to make something more substantial … like a car.

Honda 3D printed car - photo credit Kabuku

Honda 3D printed car – photo credit Kabuku

Honda recently partnered with 3D-printing specialist Kabuku to build a custom delivery vehicle for a confectionery business using 3D printing technology. The inspiration was a very real need by a real customer: a delivery vehicle narrow enough to navigate roads where even Japanese kei cars won’t fit but motorcycles will — one that would also be small and distinctive enough to advertise a company’s business.

The two companies took a small electric chassis and designed a custom panel van body around it, perfect for delivery of small parcels around town. The EV chassis and drivetrain were almost the only parts of this van that were not 3D-printed; most body panels were designed from scratch to fit existing hardware, such as headlights.

photo credit Kabuku

photo credit Kabuku

The design and manufacturing process ended up being quicker and cheaper than traditional molding and required far less equipment and fewer raw materials to create.

“Also, the total development process was shortened to about two months while still offering an original vehicle with reduced time and costs,” the company said. “By using ‘Rinkak Mass Customization Solutions,’ the project could take advantage of rapid 3D design, a mold-less development process for 3D printers and a digital manufacturing factory network.”

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Two months isn’t a record — Local Motors 3D printed a (very rough) sports car faster back in 2014 — but speed of production was not Honda and Kabuku’s goal. Creating something durable for everyday use was the priority.

The individual 3D-printed pieces are still a little larger than what a home 3D printer under $1,000 will spit out these days, but the project demonstrated, among other things, that custom manufacturing with 3D printers is only a matter of scale once a design has been finalized. We would still like to experiment with 3D-printing a car in 1:18 scale before we move on to 1:1 scale, but if the pace of technology keeps up, a completely custom body for a chassis and powertrain will be within reach of any small business. At least in Japan.

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