Jason Torchinsky over at Deadspin has a brilliant proposal: Google should create a digital database for car parts.
Not just a text-based one with which to find which parts are available for what, though that'd be a nice start. No, Torchinsky wants a database of literal car parts: the specifications needed to instruct a 3D printer to make the thing, right there before your eyes, in three dimensions.
He writes, citing the plight of the auto enthusiast:
Even now, for most cars over 30 years old, parts availability is a huge issue. [...] So I propose we start scanning and saving parts now. This, of course, is not trivial, as 3D scanners are still pretty expensive, but they are around. Most major art schools with Automotive Design departments, like Art Center in Pasadena, have one. And 3D printers are getting cheaper and more accessible every year. It's just a matter of time before they're everywhere. The parts would be printed in plastic, which may be fine for dash knobs and interior fittings, but they'd have to be cast in metal for heavier-duty use, which is a good thing from your local independent machinist's perspective.
Torchinsky likens it to Google's Books venture, where it scans the books of major research institutions for archival purposes. But that venture didn't exactly go over so well, financially and legally.
Still, it's a sound proposal, even if it's a bit before its time. (As he suggests, 3D printing remains awfully expensive and lacks scale -- but it's in use today. Auto designers use the technique to quickly create and test prototypes.)
Here's hoping we can visit Pep Boys for a brand new car part made on the premises, and not merely shipped in from Anywhere, U.S.A. Perhaps then we'll be able to replace parts more acutely, instead of replacing half the dashboard when you only needed one panel.
The only thing I wonder: would we build cars differently as a result?
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com