How We 3D Printed a Dashboard

When creating user interfaces for cars, showing things in the right context makes a big difference. During the development process you'll be constantly reviewing your UI concepts and prototypes with your stakeholders in order to nail down the right look, feel and logic. Here's how we created a  3D printed dashboard, and how it has helped us iterate and improve our offering.

Gathering valuable feedback

You can present your concepts on a projection screen or a monitor - you'll probably get some feedback. But sit your test users down in a chair, have them put their hands on a wheel and show them your concepts on a real automotive display and the feedback you’ll get will be much more valuable. By using a realistic simulation it's easier to get the test user into the "driver mind set", which is when they start noticing a lot of the things that make a difference - text sizes, legibility, interaction logic, responsiveness, animations, possible error scenarios...

The challenge in creating an automotive simulation environment is that with no commercial options available you'll have to build most of it yourself. And with your projects always being pressed on time, you want to find a way to rapidly design and create those components.

Concept sketches for the 3D printed dashboard

Picture: Sketch of a case design for an automotive cluster display

The 3D printed dashboard is born

One of our technology partners recently provided us with a set of cutting-edge automotive instrument cluster displays.  We wanted to use these displays for prototyping in an ongoing development project, as well as for demos and events. However, specialized components like these are usually provided as just a set of monitors and wires. We wanted to have a more realistic set-up, with the displays placed inside nice-looking protective casings.

After looking at available options, we chose to go with 3D printing, which would allow us to create custom designs - fast! We contacted Pete at Innoexpress, who took up the challenge of creating custom cases for our displays.

After a session of design sketching and taking measurements, we settled on a design that we liked. We designed the cases to have switchable faceplates, which would allow us to print specific masks for different projects.

After agreeing on a final design with Pete, he began the printing process and soon delivered the final cases for us. The displays fit nicely inside and the modular design means that we can easily create and switch new faceplates when needed. And now that we have a ready CAD model, we can print more cases whenever we need them.

If it doesn't exist - make it!

The 3D printed dashboard in action

Picture: Kanzi Performance Analyzer running on 12" automotive display

The 3D printed dashboard showing one of our digital instrument clusters'

Picture: QNX Technology Concept Car Maserati cluster running on 12" automotive display

The Future of Automotive UX - Download presentation deck