Integrating old and new: a step-by-step guide in using 3D technology for custom automotive parts

When Javelin’s Rob Greer needed to add a few little luxuries to his recently acquired 1969 Chevrolet Suburban pickup truck, he knew exactly how to go about it: 3D printing a custom automotive part.

The truck, nicknamed “The Burb,” required a few updates. Rob wanted to replace the two seats, which were not original, and add a centre console with a coin tray and two phone chargers.

Rob acquired seats and a console from a 2002 to 2006 Cadillac Escalade and with that, The Burb became the “Suburbillac.”

An obvious challenge when incorporating parts from other vehicle models is getting the right fit, as seen below. The Escalade console was too tall for the Suburban and would obstruct the heating controls. Rob removed the top of the console and decided to 3D print a custom, flat piece to form the new top of the console.

Escalade console in Suburban

Rob’s modified centre console, made to fit The Burb without blocking the heat controls

Ali Shahab, a student application engineer at Javelin formed a team of specialists who worked with Rob to create a custom solution. They share their story below, step by step.

3D scanning custom automotive parts for reverse engineering

Our first step was to scan the existing centre console using the Artec Leo – a handheld, portable 3D scanner. With a built-in power source, computing capabilities and WiFi connectivity, it’s cord-free and easy to handle.

Artec Leo in action

Ali using the Artec Leo to scan the console and dashboard

Since the part to be modelled had to integrate with the centre console and the dashboard, we needed to scan some hard-to-reach areas. The wireless Leo with its large field of view made it easy to move the scanner into tricky spots.

Artec Leo Scan

Artec Leo Scan

3D scanning is as easy as taking a video. As we scanned, we could see the 3D replica forming in real time on the Artec Leo’s touch screen, right in our hands instead of on a separate monitor. It was easy to stay focused and capture all the data we needed.

The optimal scanning range is clearly displayed: blue objects indicate the part is too far away, red objects indicate the part is too close, and green objects indicate the part is within the optimal range.

Artec Leo 3D scanning monitor

Artec Leo 3D scanning monitor

Leo is one of the fastest professional handheld 3D scanners on the market. It has a large field of view while allowing you to capture intricate detail, and the auto alignment feature and fine serial registration reduce post processing in later steps.

Design for additive manufacturing

When the scanning was completed, we transferred the data to Artec Studio software for post processing, including removing any unnecessary data. Since the Artec Leo allowed us to do some background processing, we didn’t spend much time on this step.

Artec studio post processing

Artec studio post processing

We exported the scanned data directly to Geomagic Design X software to start designing the part to fit the centre console. 

Exported data in DesignX

Exported data in DesignX

By leveraging some advanced features in Design X software, we were able to use the scanned data as reference to create a console that will connect perfectly to the Suburbillac

The end design needs to fit the bottom of the dashboard correctly to prevent movement. This would have been difficult to achieve without leveraging 3D scan and reverse engineering technologies. By using Mesh sketch, Auto sketch and other advanced features we were able to create a complex surface model.  Once this is complete, we were able to convert the surface extrude to the solid body surface knit commands.   

Surface extrude in DesignX

Surface extrude in DesignX

Next, we created recessed features for the wireless charging pads and coin tray using the extrude feature and highlighting the cut option.

Wireless charging pads

Wireless charging pads

When the model is satisfactory, it can be shelled from the bottom and back faces approximately 2 mm.

DesignX shelled from bottom and back faces

DesignX shelled from bottom and back faces

The final model can be seen below:

Final model

Final model

3D printing for prototyping and end use parts

3D printing is quick and convenient and allows for maximum flexibility and creativity. Making prototypes, in just hours, allows you to easily test the part’s performance and fit. If changes are needed, you can tweak the design and move quickly to the finished part. We used the Stratasys Fortus 450mc printer and black ABS material. We printed a few test models to see if the model would fit in the vehicle as it should; for example, we tested the charging pad cut-out to see if all measurements and tolerances were met.

Test model for fit of custom auto part

Test model for fit of custom auto part

It was also important to test the fixture that connects the model to the centre console by printing only the bottom half of the model, again to check tolerances.

We printed upside down to reduce the amount of support required, and soluble support structures made it easy to remove the support material post print.

This model took about 14 hours to print. Because we tested critical elements beforehand, we didn’t need to make any further changes.

Below, the final part is shown in the vehicle. Further finishing steps could include sanding and painting. The last step will be to securely position the part using glue or double-sided tape.

Final custom automotive part

Final custom automotive part

In conclusion, we were able to complete a complex retrofit by leveraging not only the Artec Leo 3D scanner but Geomagic DesignX software and 3D printing. By doing this, we were able to reduce design time, print material waste and production time for this project.

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