By on July 4, 2013

Did you see the video about Ford’s new panel forming tech? Ford’s Freeform Fabrication Technology, F3T. Gizmodo called it a 3D printer for sheet metal but I think it’s more of a new take on traditional metal shaping tools since it’s essentially taking a large power hammer, reducing the scale of the work tools down to stylus size so very small sections of the panel are shaped at a time and digitizing the process.

I think it has potential for the car hobby well beyond letting Ford make prototype parts or short run niche vehicle body panels fast. I think it could bring coachbuilding to the masses. Right now it takes a lot of specialty machines and tools and years and years of apprenticing and metal shaping to be able to make a one-off fender, let alone an entire car. Imagine being able to take a CAD drawing of the car of your dreams, downloading it into a machine, and watch it start shaping fenders, hoods and doors.

What a cool idea!

What a freaking scary idea!

God, imagine the monstrosities we’ll see at custom car shows. Just think of the worst Corvette Summer level abortion in fiberglass that you’ve ever seen and then try to visualize its counterpart based on any car made out of metal. Imagine car enthusiasts whose idea of styling never got very far beyond the cars they drew in school notebooks in junior high now being able to have those ideas rendered in steel or aluminum. The Detroit Autorama is a great show, but there are always a few cars that demonstrate the triumph of demonstrable technical abilities over an equally demonstrable paucity of aesthetic talent. In other words, people with shit for taste will use the tech to make even more bizarre things than the insane wheels they can currently cut on a CNC machine.

Right now there simply aren’t that many people who know how to shape metal panels and have the specialty tools, the power hammers, the metal shrinkers, the stretchers, the English wheels and Italian hammers. Not many people can make a compound curve out of a flat sheet of metal. Not many people can afford to pay those other folks’ rates.

At this point it looks like the tech is a bit beyond the experimental stage but assuming Ford licenses it or otherwise allows it to proliferate I can see how in a few short years you no longer will need to find a skilled panel beater or coachbuilder to make you the car of your dreams. Just remember, though, some dreams are nightmares.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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22 Comments on “A Brave New World of Custom Cars?...”

  • avatar

    If I had a quarter-of-a-billion dollars I’d:

    #1 Have Chrysler remake the interior of the new SRT8300c 2012 into my 2006 and then I’d have them put in a 440 with my Vortec V3 supercharger. I like the 06′ exterior more than the 12′ because I don’t like the new windshield angle.

    #2 I’d buy a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, have it stretched to make it easier for me to sit in (the Roger Penske collection Veyron I drove was too tight) and then I’d have them put in even BIGGER turbos for MOAR POWER.

    #3 I’d do the same thing to an Aventador Carbonado edition.

    #4 I’d build a Dodge Durango AWD SRT-10 SUPERCHARGED.

    #5 I’d Build a Dodge Dart AWD twin turbocharged SRT-4.

    #6 Even though I hate minivans: Town & Country AWD SRT-8 supercharged.

    All my cars get 12 SMILES PER GALLON.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wanted to make my own car…something with sharp lines, sharp angles, rear wheel drive, two door body style…sorta like an old boulevard cruiser, but with modern tech.

  • avatar

    Ford wouldn’t do most of this themselves. It would need to be done aftermarket. Anything that could change crash performance in anyway would be out of bounds for a big auto company.

    There could easily be a short future in BYO until it gets too big and the cronies, mercantilists, labor, socialists, safety nannies, and reactionaries team up to stop the growth of vehicles they don’t want others to have from littering their roads. See the history of general aviation for more info.

    • 0 avatar

      So no company will make a prototype or a demo model any more because of the socialist safety nannies? Prototypes will stop because of a new insidious computer driven device?
      Please explain how your statement is not pure trolling?

      • 0 avatar

        The story is not about prototypes or demos. The story is about custom cars for buyers. My comments are about what will happen if companies start selling a lot of those, and about why companies like Ford won’t be doing it themselves.

        Does that clear things up?

  • avatar

    I for one hope this technology someday becomes accessible to the masses. One man’s opinion of ugly is another man’s opinion of beautiful. I mean, enough people buy those awful Fierrari and Fieroborghini kits to justify someone manufacturing those. So why the heck not.

    Speaking of homebuilt Lambos, that guy who finished that completely hand crafted Countach in his basement a few years ago will rage when he sees this.

  • avatar

    I think the flip side of the “ugly” argument (and it is a good one!) is that there will also be creations of pure genius.
    Consider that not all people have both technical and artistic skill. Great car design is partly art. Most people, who are lucky enough, would only have one or the other of those skills and that goes some way to explaining said abortions seen publicly. Give an artist the tools to create what they previously cold not and I think we have the ingredients for amazing creations.

  • avatar

    How about a car with no bodywork. Aluminum tube frame, 2 racing seats, 8000RPM 300HP VQ30, 4 275mm low profile tires. Helmet required. Bodywork could be optional (but minimal). I would def rather that than ANYTHING AVAILABLE for 20-30K, new OR used.

  • avatar

    When I first saw the headline to the post, I thought more of creating or re-creating older cars.

    Who hasn’t fantasized about re-creating some kind of older car? Wouldn’t the auto companies want to re-produce their own intellectual property for a premium. Maybe I don’t want a Dodge Journey. Maybe I want a 1973 Plymouth Satellite station wagon (Di-Noc woodgrain and all). With 2013 running gear, of course.

    Why couldn’t the factory produce that for me (for a fee, of course)?

    OTOH, I could imagine a bunch of “Homer-mobiles” (ref: Homer Simpson) being produced with this equipment, yes…

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    So.. Will LiquidMetal ever get to the point that it could be used for additive home 3D printing?

  • avatar

    Wagon rear grafted to a Maurader with with Wood Paneling and Colony Park badges

  • avatar

    ’88 Trooper sized for a Silverado chassis and a case each of Windex and suncreen.

  • avatar

    I don’t see this producing parts for even small series vehicles – note what they say in the video about “set it up, start it and come back the next morning.” It’s a slow, very expensive machine. Great for prototyping. But not there (yet) for producing a part you’d sell to someone.

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