How customisation with 3D printing helped transform a classic American farm truck

At Graphite Additive Manufacturing, we regularly support clients to harness the huge possibilities for customisation that Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) offers.

Our client Leigh Marris from Synapse Point 7 took on a personal automotive project to restore a characterful 1954 Chevy 3100 truck. He turned to us to guide the process of creating the custom rear lighting parts.

‘Project Dorothy’

In Spring 2020, Leigh was flicking through Instagram and saw an image of the old, half-ton farm truck sitting under a tree in Kansas.

Rusty old 1954 Chevy in Kansas
Beautiful patina on the bodywork. Rear lights that were replaced with a custom 3D printed assembly

“The rich rust patina is attractive. No need to polish it. The life they have lived and the stories they could tell if they could talk intrigued me.”

’Project Dorothy’ was born. The old Kansas truck was shipped to the UK. The aim was to create a comfortable everyday vehicle. A vehicle for fun, to cruise around in and to turn heads. As Leigh believes, “life is too short to drive boring cars.”

Keeping the weathered body fashionably untouched on the classic Chevy, Leigh set about the rebuild adding modern touches of the highest standard.

A v8 engine replaced the original 6-cylinder. The front-end suspension replaced with a Mustang II front suspension clip welded in. New Detroit Steel Wheels look super-cool tucked under the wing.

The Challenge

Leigh loved the look of this old truck. He didn’t like the look or function of the original light features. He couldn’t buy a light unit that had the features he wanted for his rear lights that fit in the original metal housing.

Leigh needed a bespoke part to fit an easily perceived LED reverse bulb in the middle and two halos. One halo an amber indicator, the other halo a red driving light. Cable management was considered in the rear and all to fit into the original metal housing. “I wanted people to walk past my truck thinking that the upgraded rear lights were the standard original units.”

Leigh is a designer and engineer making models and prototypes in the automotive sector. He already had a good knowledge of materials and processes and had made prototypes from polyurethane modelling boards and aluminium but concluded they weren’t the right materials to use here.

The Solution: Customisation with 3D Printing

Leigh turned to us at Graphite Additive Manufacturing for the 3D printing technical expertise, materials and processes we offer and to deliver a robust and functional part that would hold the lighting components and cables. “I have worked successfully with Graphite. The 3D printed process lends itself perfectly to what I wanted to do. It was the best process to use and would produce the customised parts cost-effectively and with a short lead time.”

3D printing means any part can be innovated or replicated quickly and easily in a variety of materials.

circular CAD drawing showing the front of a part
CAD drawing (front)
circular CAD drawing showing the rear of a part
CAD drawing (rear)
Spokes for cable management

We recommended Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) in PA12 Nylon for the custom rear light part. Its has excellent mechanical properties, strength, durability and resistance to temperature and chemicals.

Our popular Cosmetic Finishing option was recommended also. It removes excess powder leftover from the manufacturing process to produce a glossier, smooth surface finish.

3D printed part for a light
Finished MJF part
3D printed part holding the lighting components
Lighting components and cabling in place

We manufactured and shipped the custom parts within a week.

The Result

Leigh loves the end product created by Graphite. It fits perfectly and neatly in the original metal housing as required. “I was happy to be guided by Graphite because 3D printing is what they do well. They have great knowledge of materials and processes to suit the application. Skills I appreciate and recognise as an experienced model maker.” 

new headlight for a 1954 Chevy truck
Fits in the original metal housing thanks to the custom 3D printed part

Leigh realises the potential of AM to take this application beyond his own personal project. Conventional manufacturing methods cannot compete on customisation, cost-effectiveness or lead times. “Moving forward, I hope to build on this working relationship with Graphite Additive Manufacturing and customlight units. I see a promising market for bespoke and small batch runs for lights on classic vehicles.” 

We were happy to be part of this project. Welcome the possibility of a future collaboration with Leigh’s custom light vision. We are also at the fore exploring the growing trend for mass-customisation with 3D printing.

We will keenly follow the progress and can’t wait to see ‘Project Dorothy’ smoothly cruising around in its renewed glory.

Next Steps on you 3D Printing Journey

Click here to find out more about our work in the Automotive sector.

Need help to solve a specific design or production challenge?
Trying to understand how to get the most out of Additive Manufacturing?
Just exploring the exciting possibilities Additive Manufacturing could have for your business?
Talk to us.

We are renowned for our technical expertise in AM and our highly qualified team is here to help.

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