3D Printing

Car Thieves Take Note: 3D Printing is NOT the Best Way to Steal a Car

When designer, and Instructables user, Bryan Allen’s only car key broke and he needed to move it he had two options, call out a locksmith that specialized in cars, or model and 3D print a replacement. Unfortunately for the struggling locksmithing industry and fortunately for us, Allen is a cheapskate with access to an Objet Connex500 3D printer. And, also fortunate for us, he posted an Instructable detailing how he did it.

As a co-founder and principal at Smith/Allen Studio and the Chief Design Officer at Type A Machines, Allen is pretty well versed in what 3D design and printing technology is and is not capable of. While time consuming, the actual digital fabrication of the key went pretty smoothly for him. His program of choice was Autodesk’s cloud-based CAD software, Fusion360.

3d printed keys lined up

His first step was to carefully photograph the key from the top and the front so the shape could be recreated in Fusion360. Then, he measured the key using a set of calipers to accurately recreate the size of the key blank and the depth and angle of the grooves. Once he had the blank, he placed his photo of the key on top of his blank model and traced the shape. After some tweaking and cleaning up, the model of his key was ready for printing.

key 3d printed

Luckily, Allen had access to a Stratasys Objet Connex 500 3D printer and printed his key in white Endur. The polypropylene-like material is extremely durable and flexible, a good option for a temporary key.  Allen suggests, if you’re trying this at home, to test your plastic key in a non-essential lock first, like a car door or a trunk. That way,if it breaks, you won’t have an entirely new problem on your hands. Once you have the design right, go ahead and take it to your ignition and give it a try.

A few comments on the Instructable noted that newer cars use RFID tags embedded in keys to prevent the use of forgeries, so this probably isn’t going to work if your car was made recently. Although another user said that they just placed their RFID tag near the new key, when the original broke, and the car still started. So, I guess there is always a way around any problem.

3d printed key broken

As for Allen’s 3D printed car key, it worked! Sort of, at least. The plastic key did, indeed break off in his cars ignition, leaving him with a still unstarted car and a deadline to move it looming. Desperation is, of course, the mother of invention, so he ended up jamming a screwdriver into his ignition with the plastic key still inside of it and the car started. Success?

Granted, he’s still going to have to fork over some cash for a locksmith, and probably pay extra to dig out his plastic key. So, this was clearly an impractical solution to his problem. But even an impractical solution is a solution, and that has to count for something. You can read his entire walkthrough and the many insightful comments over on Instructables.