Classic car restorers are finding out that original and even aftermarket parts are becoming scarcer, meaning even the most straightforward replacement part has to be individually fabricated – a very time-consuming process that also involves considerable expense.

In recent years, developments in 3D scanning and printing have become a significant factor in planning and production, even taking in the classic car industry.

Until recently, the only options that metal fabricators had at their disposal were the tried and tested ones- using traditional measuring tools such as callipers, tape measures and rulers to make an accurate sketch of the part that needs to be fabricated, followed by several hours of intricate crafting to create the simplest and smallest replacement part.

3D printing is an innovation for the future, with the global market for 3D printing expected to exceed one billion pounds annually in the next few years.

Not so long ago, car restorers who found themselves at a dead-end when searching for a particular part are now turning to 3D scanning and printing, discovering that there is not a single problem that this new development is incapable of solving.

Thanks to the power and flexibility that 3D scanning brings to the table, measuring projects can be completed in minutes instead of hours. All that is required is a 3D scanner hooked up to CAD software to create a super-accurate prototype or part.

In the simplest of terms, to print a third-dimensional object, a detailed image of the desired object must first be computer generated.

These images are presented in a language known as standard triangle (STL), transmitting the dimensions and intricacies and dimensions of any design to the 3D printer, which will view the design from all angles and sides.

Printed in successive layers using various raw materials in successive layers to eventually become a physical object.

For the newcomer to this remarkable technology, it is important to define between 3D scanning and 3D printing that are two separate techniques and require different and autonomous hardware, with the common denominator being the CAD software.

Although it all sounds very elementary, and everyone rushes out to buy a CD scanner, CD printer and the appropriate CAD software that will bind them together, there are significant cost issues to be considered. While a small-scale 3D scanner can be acquired for around £400, accessing CAD software is more expensive, at about £1000 to purchase the software outright.

Like most software industries, it has become common practice for the developers of CAD software to offer monthly subscriptions ( usually for a minimum yearly commitment). Monthly subscriptions make for a practical short-term alternative for those individuals who want to preserve capital, although it will work out very expensive in the long term

The major cost factors in the equation are CD scanners, with a price ticket beginning at around £5,000 for a “starter” model, although prices that can reach four or five times that amount for a large and high powered scanner. The type that can print entire panels or major mechanical parts.

For those who need access to 3D scanners occasionally, some companies offer 3D scanning services at a cost that can be lived with.

It goes without saying that even investing in a CD printer and CAD software can only be justifiable if there is a long-term need to constantly produce protypes and small scale parts.

Anyone looking for a single prototype or small part would be well advised to find a professional 3D printing service to take on the job.

With the spread of this exciting new technology a large number of professional printer have sprung up throughout the UK and Europe who offer 3D printing services; some of them have invested in full-scale 3D scanners and printers that can tackle any job.

The materials used in 3d printing are as diverse as the final product.
Out of all the raw materials for 3D printing in use today, the one that best lend themselves to the production of lightweight vehicle parts are Alumide- a composite of grey aluminium and polyamide. Processed in powder form, Alumide is recognised as being among the most robust raw materials, mainly lending itself to the production of small scale prototypes and spare parts.

For larger-scale projects, powdered steel, bronze, aluminium or copper, are much in demand due to their ability to be moulded into any configuration.

Any metal-based powder used in 3D printing must be heated to a high temperature to reach the desired shape, reaching melting points between 1100º to 1400º depending on the material. Only at this point can the metal powder be easily distributed layer-by-layer to form a completed shape.

The advantage of metal 3D printed parts is that they can be topologically optimised while minimising weight and the number of components in even the most complex parts or prototypes

On the downside, material and manufacturing costs involved in metal 3D printing are high, meaning the option should only be used as a last resort if there are no other options available.

Like any other major innovation, 3D scanning and printing are expected to become more widespread, bringing with it less expensive yet no less efficient hardware and software, bringing it advantages within reach of even the most budget-challenged classic car restorer.

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