I’m a big fan of Jay Leno’s Garage YouTube Channel, and have probably watched at least 80% of everything he has on there over the years. So I knew something special was up when he recently released this unscheduled video:

Leno is an unabashed fan of 3D printers and has expounded on its benefits many times with good reason. His cars are often rare – many of his cars were produced in low numbers to begin with and some are even one – offs ie. the only ones in existence ever.

The video talks about Direct Metal Laser Printing from Stratasys, a service provider company (not the manufacturer!) of 3D printing services including Direct Metal via Laser Sintering. Here’s a few thoughts on this in bullet points:

  1. Essentially a laser ‘fuses’ metal powder to produce the part. It’s called Selective Laser Sintering.
  2. At the moment the machine costs USD 1M (!)
  3. A part is estimated to cost USD 500 – 600 per vertical inch. Compared to the cost of trying to find a rare part I suppose that’s a fair deal.
  4. Stratasys Direct is a parts manufacturer and service provider – they did not invent the machine. Their business is to make parts, and it is one of many other machines they own.
  5. Items can be reproduced using seven different materials, including aluminum, titanium, chrome and stainless steel.
  6. Economies of scale can be achieved not by the number of times the machine reproduces a part but by the number of items you can fit in the 9.5/9.5 inch area – the area of the machine you put the part in.
  7. It takes 7 to 10 days to make one assuming everything is ok ie. they are confident they can reproduce it properly.
  8. You can send them the old part to copy, which as the video mentions, is a great way to ‘blame’ Stratasys because ‘it would be their fault’ if it didn’t work. I’m sure however that they will make several tests before accepting a job and a ‘best attempt’ clause would be in place.
  9. The implications of this technology are clearly fantastic. You can not only make rare parts, but if the technology is made fast enough you can make parts ‘on the fly’, that is, when needed and only when needed, removing the need to stock up on parts. This has immense repercussions in issues like stock maintenance, warehousing and inventory. Not to mention the more obvious effects on businesses using CNC Lathes and other traditional parts manufacturers. (And yes I intentionally left out the medical, aerospace and other industries as I just wanted this to be about the cars).
  10. It reminds me a little bit of the Food Replicators on Star Trek:

    Where you can supposedly cook up anything you want. I know there are stark differences but the concept per se of fusing something together from generic material should apply too, right?

So now, I have questions:

Once the service provider scans a part producing a CAD file out of it they can now have a library of CAD parts files ready to be fed into their printer the moment someone orders that part.

1.) So who owns the CAD files? The guy who had it made or Stratasys?

Neither owns the patent for the item itself of course, as that is presumably still owned by the manufacturer. The CAD file to make it is obviously valuable because it represents the opportunity to make more of it, so its ownership should be clearly established.

2.) Can you send them a complicated part ie. a carburetor, that is made up several internal parts? Then have them put it together?

Probably not but I wanted to ask this anyway as this would be a big plus for their service. That might be an additional service offered by service providers later on.

Whatever the answers there is no doubt that this technology blows the mind in 3d. Here’s a snazzy video from the company to help convince anyone who isn’t yet.