The 3D printing revolution has already touched cars in a multitude of ways, but Volkswagen is planning to take the largest step yet: mass production of parts. We've seen 3D printers produce calipers, door sills and even entire cars, but it's always been for limited production purposes. VW is seeking to change that, and it's thanks to HP's new $400,000 metal jet 3D printer.

This new printer is excellent at printing parts made out of steel. We won't get too technical here, but the process it uses is better than previous technology, because it promises to increase productivity up to 50 times compared to current 3D printing methods, depending on the component being produced. Before, 3D printers like this used a process of melting the "steel powder" and binder (a type of glue) together with a laser. HP says it uses a much quicker method of layering the powder and binder, then baking the part it created in a sintering process - the sintering is taken care of by a couple manufacturing corporations, not HP.

So what exactly does all that mean for a vehicle you might eventually drive? VW says it's going to begin making smaller and more customizable options at the start like tailgate lettering, gear knobs and personalized keys. Within 2-3 years however, it plans to make "structural components for mass-production vehicles" using this method. We asked VW what specific parts and for what cars it plans on using this 3D printing for, and will update if we hear back.

In a first step, Volkswagen will use the new 3D printing process to print design elements such as individualized gear knobs in small production series.

For now, VW has an optimistic outlook on the future of 3D printing in vehicle manufacturing. "Our goal is to integrate printed structural parts into the next generation of vehicles as quickly as possible. In the long term, we expect a continuous increase in unit numbers, part sizes and technical requirements – right up to soccer-size parts of over 100,000 units per year," says Dr. Martin Goede, VW Head of Technology Planning and Development.

We won't see mass-production of cars via 3D printer anytime soon, but this new tech gets us closer. HP has only partnered with VW for the time being, so they'll be the first to use these massive new printers it just released. Pending its success though, don't be surprised to see other manufacturers try the same thing.

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