3D printing 3D printing Honda Access says 3D printing has become 'indispensable' for their business. (Photo: Zorabc / Shutterstock)

3D printing gives Honda a speed boost with car accessories

Consumers can create custom parts on demand.

For many car enthusiasts, buying a vehicle from a dealership is like taking home a blank piece of canvas from an art supply store. The real fun comes not only from the drive, but also the accessories and customizations that can be added to reflect an owner's creativity and individuality. Now, thanks to the meteoric rise of 3D printing, those tweaks and upgrades are limited only by imagination.

Honda Access, a division of the Tokyo-based automaker that specializes in custom accessories, recently embraced 3D printing to satisfy customer demand and streamline the building of prototypes. Similar to aircraft manufactuer Airbus, the company purchased technology from Stratasys, a firm that specializes in the manufacturer of 3D printers from its dual headquarters in America and Israel.

“3D printers allow us to synchronize the development schedule with that of the vehicle itself and create the accessory parts simultaneously, improving both the quality and speed of the prototype process,” said Hiroshi Takemori, senior researcher at Honda Access. “The technology has become indispensable for our business.”

Honda AccessHonda Access has 3D printed items such as custom wheels and headlight molds in response to requests from vehicle owners. (Photo: Honda Access Company, Ltd.)

If a customer in Hong Kong or Singapore has a request for a custom wheel, headlight, or mirror that's never been created before, Takemori and his team 3D print a prototype, make sure it abides by Honda's quality control standards, and then place it into production. Previously, the cost and time to generate a prototype using traditional manufacturing techniques limited the amount of accessories that could be created. Today, more than 300 per Honda model are offered, with many more custom created for local regions around the world.

“In the United States, the [Honda CRV] is marketed to parents who use the vehicle to pick up and drop off their children, but in China it is positioned as the ultimate SUV and a status symbol," added Takemori. "Since the vehicle body is built to the same standards worldwide, we use the accessories to give the car a little regional flavor.”

Going forward, Honda Access plans to speed up its use of 3D printing in everything from prototypes to rapid manufacturing. It also wants to bring some of that fun home. Earlier this year, the company released digital files for early adoptors of 3D printers to print minitature versions of Honda concept vehicles. While it's not the 3D printed car of the future we're all waiting for, it's nonetheless a fascinating glimpse of what's to come.

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