I wrote about 3D rapid prototyping back in 2007, but the interesting thing about Leno's article -- and the accompanying video -- is he shows an actual use-case scenario that could potentially help out the many thousands of classic car owners who can't run their vehicles because they're missing a part that's no longer manufactured:
"It's a classic example of high tech melding with old tech. There are cars sitting in garages around the country, and they haven’t moved in years for lack of some unobtainable part. Now they can hit the road once more, thanks to this technology."Leno brings up the case of a deteriorating part for a 100-year old car. While it would be possible to get a machinist to attempt to replace the part, it would be expensive and could potentially take lots of trial and error, if the replacement part is too thick or doesn't quite fit. With 3D "fabbing" technologies, you can not only create a very precise model of the part (according to Leno, "50,000 points per second at a density of 160,000 dots per inch"), you can "print" it plastic. If the part needs to be made into metal, like Jay's old car parts, the plastic models can either be turned into a mold or the 3D data file can be used with a special type of machine that makes metal parts based on 3D models.
Check out the video below, which shows Leno explaining the technology. One of the neatest things about this technology which I wasn't aware of previously is it can actually be used to make working plastic models that have moving parts -- no assembly required! Leno demonstrates a wrench and some sort of steam-engine component made with the 3D printer, and both actually work:
As for cost, Leno admits the 3D scanner and printer are expensive (he says the NextEngine scanner costs about $3000 and the Dimension uPrint Personal 3D printer is under $15,000, which is actually a sharp drop from just two years ago, when printers cost $40,000 and up). That's too expensive for mass production of parts, but most car collectors or owners of old machinery just need single parts or pieces. There's probably potential for an online marketplace to spring up, that lets people trade 3D modeling data files and order parts from 3D print shops onine.