3D printing is coming, and it will change the way that automakers do business. (It will also shake up the military, medicine, and the entire field of confectionery, but those are subjects for another time.)
We've already seen the way that Ford uses 3D printing to build prototypes. We've also read about car fans like Jay Leno, who use 3D printers to create parts for vintage rides -- something made even easier by filesharing sites like Pirate Bay, which now has a special section dedicated to blueprints for auto parts. For collectors, Porsche has published the plans for a pint-sized Cayman, and more recently, Honda did the same for five of its concept cars.
So far, one of the big downsides of 3D printing has been the limited range of materials available. Not only are most 3D printers limited to using one material at a time (though that's changing), but most of those materials aren't the sort of thing you'd want to use when building a bona fide car.
A Boston startup called MarkForged has unveiled a new 3D printer called the Mark One, and one of the many materials it can employ is carbon fiber. In fact, the Mark One makes use of many composite materials, including nylon and fiberglass. According to the company's website:
Designed to overcome the strength limitations of traditional 3D printed materials, the revolutionary Mark One 3D printer is the world’s first 3D printer designed to print continuous carbon fiber. Now you can print parts, tooling, and fixtures with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than 6061-T6 Aluminum.
Of course, as awesome as it sounds, the Mark One still won't be big enough to print a full-grown car -- but it's one step closer to the dream.
The Mark One is available for pre-order at a price of $4,999. It's expected to ship in the second half of 2014.