The two orange robot woodpeckers pecked the sheet of metal with machinegun speed from both sides, a choreographed ballet of ballistic hammering. Within minutes the flat metal was fully formed into a rear panel for an R32 Skyline GT-R, a collector’s car no longer in production.
Much of any car is made of moulded metal or plastic parts. The dies and moulds used are very expensive to make, but they can make car parts quickly and cheaply. Once a car model’s production ends, the dies and moulds are replaced with new ones for the next production cycle. The old dies and moulds are never used again because even fitting them back for a short production run is not financially feasible.
So if you own a collector’s masterpiece Nissan – or you are restoring one – getting specific parts can be tricky. You can scour scrapyards or fanatics’ websites, but spare parts for some cars are really scarce. Alternatively, there are a few skilled metalworkers that can shape and make these parts by hand, but they are much in demand and very expensive.
So that’s why we now have robot woodpeckers. Nissan Motor’s NISMO Heritage Parts programme offers genuine parts for popular discontinued vehicles and has now expanded its technology to offer more. The test of this new tech is the ability to make the parts in limited numbers at an acceptable cost.
The technical term is dual-sided dieless forming and it is used to make body panels in low volumes. The two robots work in tandem on both sides of the sheet metal, and use different diamond-tipped rods to quickly but carefully shape the flat sheet into the required 3-D shape. The metal can be pre-cut, so this process can produce anything from tiny little parts to large panels like the aforementioned rear panel.
There is a significant initial investment to purchase the two robots and supporting computer hardware and software, but this is a once-off and then you can produce an almost unlimited range of shapes. There is also a set-up cost per shape, but this is reasonable and once done, can be loaded again and again as needed.
This technology is still maturing, but it has the potential to change our lives in ways that cannot yet be imagined. Never mind a new knob for your hi-fi, they can now 3-D print you a new bit of lung using your own cells. 3-D will make things better in the same way that the internet did but without cat videos.
Okay, Nissan does not mess around with meat, but they will use resin to print very complex and impossible to find plastic bits for your old Z or Skyline.
Not all technology is always used for good purposes, but if you are a car fanatic, you will agree that Nissan has been very clever in how they harnessed this tech. These technologies are still new and at the moment it seems like it is limited to Japan only, but there is no reason why you should not be able to order your much-needed part from NISMO once your current Nissan GT-R, which you will never sell, is no longer in production.
If you enjoy keeping up with Nissan and the way it is bringing the future home, subscribe to our newsletter here.