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Dealerships to help customers design their own cars

Drivers may soon be able to have parts of their cars built to their own designs by local dealerships, thanks to the work of British engineers.

The new systems are being developed under a Foresight Vehicle research project called MANRM – Management, Organisation and Implementation of Rapid Manufacturing. Foresight Vehicle is an initiative backed by Government funding aimed at keeping Britain ahead in high-technology in the automotive sector.

It could allow some car parts, such as seats, steering wheels, gear knobs and handbrakes to be built to the exact individual requirements of the buyer. Dashboard inserts, such as air ducts, could be designed by the driver and built to order at their local dealership to match their particular preference.

The 3D profile of the client would be scanned-in at a dealership fitted with ‘rapid manufacturing’ machines being developed by the Rapid Manufacturing Research Group at Loughborough University. The machines build up the components in a layering technique, similar to the way inkjet printers make images.

The new machines would be designed to be operated in small workshops as rapid manufacturing technology does not require the complexities of a full-size car factory. Similar technology is already used by Formula One teams and in some specialist aerospace operations.

The Foresight Vehicle MANRM programme links experts at Loughborough University’s Rapid Manufacturing Research Group, JCB Research, The Engineering Forum, MG Rover, Mitre Group, Perkins Engines and Martin Baker Aircraft Ltd. They have been carrying out research for 18 months and hope to have the first customised manufacturing systems running within three years.

Dr Richard Hague, head of the Rapid Manufacturing Research Group, says: "The need to meet the demand for personalised products, particularly within the automotive sector, is growing increasingly important. RM offers the solution and benefits all parties involved. It is essential to embrace the technology offered by RM and maximise its potential to develop the future of automotive manufacturing.

"When fully developed, this type of system will help UK manufacturing industry to win back some of the business that is being lost to places like India and China."

More than 400 UK companies and universities have been participating in the industry-backed Foresight Vehicle initiative, led by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

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