Unless you have been hiding from the internet, chances are high that you have already heard of 3D printing, the system by which raw materials are set down, layer by layer, to build tangible objects. Although many people are aware of the process in theory, they’re shaky on the specifics of how it works. This helpful graphic courtesy of T. Rowe Price demonstrates how materials such as plastics, resins, polymers, and even gold and silver are laid down, layer upon layer, in order to form a solid object. As layers form, lasers are used to solidify the substance. It is all very impressive.
Since the inception of 3D printing in the mid-1980s, it has come to be used in many different areas, including the fields of medicine, manufacturing, and transportation.
Within the automotive field specifically, 3D printing has become standard use in the building of prototypes, granting designers greater flexibility for experimentation without increasing their costs. In 2014, both Ford and Local Motors went on the record to state how heavily their design teams now depend on 3D printing during product development.
Although 3D printing is not currently used in automotive production beyond the prototype phase, there is some evidence that 3D printing will soon become a standard solution for the production of hard-to-find, out-of-stock parts or aftermarket items. Here at the Buy Big Tires office, we’ve been speculating if the 3d printing industry will soon branch out to include 3D printed tires. It sure would be cool when a customer called and asked for any OTR tire big or small, common or rare we could always reply: “we can have that tire printed for you today!”
VIDEO: 3D Printing a Rubber Tire with Flex EcoPLA
The idea of 3D printed tires carries its own set of pros and cons, however.
Pros of 3D printed tires:
- Accessibility. Customers would no longer need to wait for out-of-stock items; they can be printed immediately in-house.
- Affordability. By eliminating the need for the supplier to carry so much money in inventory, 3D printing lowers costs for both suppliers and consumers. What’s more, the price would further decrease through reducing labor, equipment, carrying costs, and transport costs. Eventually, new tires may cost the same as used ones do now.
- Convenience. With 3D printers, customers could simply call a few hours ahead and have a new tire printed with almost any tread with any color they desire.
- Specifics. With total control, suppliers can produce a tire as heavy-duty or light as the customer’s needs require.
Cons of 3D Printed Tires:
- Initial Expense. The high capital costs of industrial 3D printers could make the shift cost-prohibitive for some businesses.
- Expertise. The difficulty of working with tire materials (primarily rubber and steel) in this new way could require further research and development as well as more advanced 3D printing technology.
- Potential Infringement. Intellectual property rights of individual tires (tire tread designs, etc.) must be taken into consideration. If the manufacturers hold these rights, would individual businesses be required to pay royalties for the right to print their own tires with these tread designs?
Perhaps these aren’t so much cons as they are potential hurdles. However, with so many distinct advantages in the offing, doesn’t it seem prudent for the tire industry to give 3D printing a shot?
We’re curious to hear your feedback on this. Do you see 3D printing as the future of the tire industry? Do you recognize potential advantages and disadvantages that we have failed to mention? Be sure to sound off in the comment section. We’d love to hear from you.
If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.