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How 3D Printing Meets the Customization Needs of Recreational Vehicles

How 3D Printing Meets the Customization Needs of Recreational Vehicles

Motorized campers began to appear on the scene as early as 1910, and truly started coming into its own by the 1950s. Ever since Prohibition-era bootleggers in the U.S. retuned their cars’ engines to be more powerful in order to evade law enforcement, people have been engaged in a passionate love affair with customizing our motorized vehicles. This obsession can manifest itself through a vehicle owner tearing something apart and reimagining, rebuilding, or simply replacing it with a component more suited to that individual’s wants and needs. It can also go way beyond the individual owner, with vehicle customization – now a full-fledged industry filled with small and large companies alike servicing this growing market.

 

RV Ownership and Customization Needs Grow

 

Interior of RV including chairs and table

 

The trend of automobile customization has expanded by leaps and bounds over the passing decades, with one of the fastest growing subsectors in the marketplace being Recreational Vehicles. Recent data reveal that in 2019 alone, the RV industry had an overall economic impact to the US economy of $114 Billion, supporting nearly 600,000 jobs. Preliminary estimates for the year 2021 show that RV sales and ownership are once again poised to break all previous records, an increase fueled at least in part by the many and varied impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much like with conventional passenger automobiles, RV manufacturers have long since understood that their customers are no longer satisfied with standardized, mass-produced design offerings. Today’s market boasts motorhomes, teardrops, fifth wheels, travel trailers, toy-haulers, and about a dozen other styles of recreational vehicles. Even within those categories, the desire for optimizing for creature comforts within a limited space, has resulted in a surging demand for more readily customizable RVs, in all their various forms.

Until recently, widespread introduction of AM into the automotive production pipeline has mostly been limited to areas like concept design, rapid prototyping, and tooling. However, as the world of 3D printing technology continues to evolve and expand, real-world applications have become widely available to the general public. These come in the form of both manufacturer-direct offerings and DIY projects that almost anyone can create with their personal 3D printer at home, meaning that the scope of possibilities is literally infinite. You can easily find thousands of downloadable digital templates for consumer parts that RV owners can print themselves.

On the manufacturer side, one example is Toyota recently unveiling a rugged – yet luxurious – concept camper built on the platform of their Tacoma pickup truck, which features a 3D printed dining table that doubles as a backlit piece of wall art when stowed. While Toyota has, for the time being, limited their use of AM to one specific design element in this project, in fact the possibility exists to produce countless components for such a vehicle.

 

Tapping into Large Scale AM

 

RV watertight elements - sinks, bathrooms, and baths

 

Large scale 3D printers such as those developed by Massivit 3D, which are capable of printing single uninterrupted components up to 6 feet long in a matter of hours, allow manufacturers to unlock limitless potential. Leveraging the capabilities of this professional-grade equipment enables 3D printing of larger elements such as complete kitchen and bathroom fixtures that must be absolutely water-tight.

The same principle applies to customized exterior body panels, spoilers, and ramp systems that must be strong, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant – all of which are among the many well-known properties of the innovative materials used in AM. The light weight parts produced by Massivit 3D printers have minimal support structure requirements, and more importantly give manufacturers the option of lightly reinforcing a 3D-printed geometric core with a thin composites coat. By virtue of these parts being hollow, they also enable easy access to run wiring and provide the possibilities of internal illumination.

Advancing yet another step, Massivit 3D has recently launched the Dimengel 20-FR material. This novel flame-retardant 3D printing material allows manufacturers and service bureaus to meet essential flammability-related safety and performance requirements. It can be reinforced with flame retardant resins and complies with UL94-V0, the highest standard for 3D printing flame-retardant materials, opening the door to a slew of potential use cases.

As the field of additive manufacturing continues to evolve and impact a wider range of industries, the possibilities available to the average consumer increase exponentially. Offering individual customization for owners is already a cost-effective reality, and one that allows manufacturers to continue the upward sales trend, while also providing a better customer experience to the burgeoning RV community.

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