Although you won’t be able to buy a 3D printed car at the dealership just yet, 3D printing has long been an important part of the automobile development process. However, we’re starting to see 3D printing use cases spread throughout manufacturing.
3D printing has the potential to add enormous value to supply chains by enabling a wide range of production applications. Companies are bringing additive manufacturing in-house to support processes on the factory floor as the technology becomes more workable and affordable. New, resilient materials are enabling the production of high precision, functional 3D prints that can stand in for final parts and provide (mass) customization and high performance, but this is just the beginning.
3D Printing for Automotive Design and Prototyping
Historically, prototyping has been the most common use case for 3D printing in the automotive industry. Rapid prototyping has become virtually synonymous with 3D printing due to the vastly increased speed at which prototyping can be carried out using the technology, and the technology has revolutionised the product development process.
Automotive designers can use 3D printing to quickly create a prototype of a physical part or assembly, such as a simple interior element, a dashboard, or even a scale model of an entire car. Companies can use rapid prototyping to turn ideas into convincing proofs of concept. These concepts can then be developed into high-fidelity prototypes that closely resemble the final product, ultimately guiding products through a series of validation stages on their way to mass production.
As a product goes through many iterations, prototyping used to be time-consuming and costly. Highly convincing, representative, and functional prototypes can be created in a day using 3D printing at a much lower cost than traditional manufacturing methods. Desktop 3D printers enable engineering and design teams to bring the technology in-house, increasing iteration cycles and shortening the gap between idea and final product, thereby strengthening their overall product development workflows.
#1 Same-Day Automotive Prototypes With 3D Printing
Many 3D printing technologies are used to create prototypes with short turnaround times at Ford’s Rapid Technology Center in Merkenich, Germany. Instead of sending a job out to a shop with a several-week lead time, engineers and designers can have their designs in their hands within hours.
Designers can create same-day prototypes in the Rapid Technology Center, iterating on several designs in a matter of hours. According to Bruno Alves, an additive manufacturing expert at Ford, physical prototypes can have advantages over digital models.
Formlabs 3D printers, for example, were used to prototype the lettering on the back of the Ford Puma, allowing designers to see how the lines and shadows would appear in various lighting conditions. “Because the printer is so fast and effective for this type of lettering, we could give the designers the option to iterate,” Alves says. “You can see it in CATIA or other software and simulate lighting, but it’s different to feel, touch, and see all the reflections when you put the lettering on the car.”
#2 Lightweighting Car Parts With 3D Printing
IGESTEK is a Spanish automotive supplier that specialises in the development of lightweight solutions made of plastics and composite materials. Their team employs 3D printing throughout the product development process, from conceptual design to verify geometries to detailed design to realise functional prototypes. They also use 3D printing to create rapid tooling, such as inserts for plastic injection moulds or composite thermoforming tools.
Topology optimization is a popular lightweighting topic. IGESTEK generates multiple solutions based on a set of parameters using Autodesk Fusion 360. The team created a multi-material architecture for one suspension mount that combines metal 3D printing based on generative geometries and lighter composite materials to provide the best performance in a 40% lighter package than current market solutions. These components were prototyped on the Form 3L, which is large enough to prototype multiple designs at the same time for faster iteration and testing.
#3 Bringing Concept Cars to Life With 3D Printing
Vital Auto is a UK-based industrial design studio that works with major car manufacturers such as Volvo, Nissan, Lotus, McLaren, Geely, TATA, and others. When original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) don’t have time to experiment, they turn to Vital to turn ideas, preliminary sketches, drawings, or technical specifications into fully realised physical forms.
“We’ve been using 3D printing since the beginning.” We wanted to incorporate it into our manufacturing processes not only to reduce costs, but also to provide customers with more design and idea diversity,” said Anthony Barnicott, Design Engineer in charge of additive manufacturing.
Barnicott now oversees a large-format fused deposition modelling (FDM) department that includes 14 large-format FDM printers, three Formlabs Form 3L large-format stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers, and five Fuse 1 selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers. “In terms of capacity, all of those printers have been running at 100% capacity, 24 hours a day, since day one.” These printers are used for all aspects of our concepts and designs. “We typically use Fuse 1s for production-based parts and Form 3Ls for concept-based parts,” Barnicott explained.
Not only does 3D printing help the team create better products faster, but it also attracts new business. They discovered that many of their customers come to them because they want to have access to the latest technologies and have their components made from cutting-edge materials.
“The advancement in technology and 3D printing over the last ten years has been phenomenal.” Some of the products we produce today would have been simply inaccessible when I first started out, producing low volume, niche vehicles. And not only can I make these parts today, but I can also make them very cheaply and quickly,” Barnicott explained.
3D Printing in Automotive Manufacturing
Because of the rapid development of 3D printers and high-performance materials, additive manufacturing can now be used to create parts that can withstand harsh environments.
Manufacturing aids such as custom jigs and fixtures, as well as low-volume rapid tooling for traditional manufacturing processes such as injection moulding or thermoforming, can be used to reduce overhead and increase efficiency with 3D printing.
3D printed end-use parts are also becoming more common in the automotive industry, particularly for applications such as aftermarket, custom, or replacement parts, where other methods of production would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.
#4 3D Printed Molds and Dies for Car Parts
Makra Pro is an additive manufacturing service provider that has developed a novel process for using 3D printed dies to mould leather, a popular trim material in luxury cars that can be difficult to shape. They have tested a method for shaping and embossing real leather in collaboration with some of their clients, including manufacturers of luxury cars, motorcycles, and motor homes.
Using moulds printed on a Form 3, Makra Pro’s technique evenly distributes pressure across a stretched leather panel. The leather is pressed into the die and takes on its shape as the foam hardens.
The finished leather parts can then be stretched over a car door panel or attached to a vehicle seat cover, for example. These moulded leather parts are used for wall or ceiling panels in vehicle enhancements by one well-known tuning company of limited-edition luxury automobiles. We are hoping to see these 3D printing creations malaysia.
#5 3D Printed Manufacturing Aids
Dorman Products creates and manages a database of over 100,000 parts for hundreds of vehicles. “Historically, we’ve released between 4,000 and 5,000 new parts per year,” says Eric Tryson, Mechanical Design Team Manager.
Dorman’s product design and manufacturing teams must be particularly agile, says Additive Manufacturing Lead Chris Allebach, in addition to the logistical challenges of operating as an aftermarket supplier. “OEMs have teams of people working on a single part, sometimes starting two years before a new car is released.” We need to figure out how to make our replacements reliable while also getting them to market quickly.”
Prior to incorporating 3D printers into their workflow, the lack of custom test fixturing slowed development. Machining was both expensive and time consuming. 3D printing products Malaysia though not as extensive as many other countries, are able to produce a lot.
“Now, with 3D printers, we develop test fixtures and gauges alongside prototyping the product, so that when we decide on a final design, we can test it as well.” “We’re attempting to be as proactive as possible,” Allebach says.
Since purchasing their first 3D printer ten years ago, Allebach and Tryson have steadily added more printers, constantly maxing out capacity on existing units and utilising the full materials library on their Formlabs SLA printers, including a large-format Form 3L.
#6 End-Use Aftermarket Parts With 3D Printing
BTI Gauges, like many successful businesses, began with a market gap. The founder and owner, Brandon Talkmitt, was looking for a customizable approach to telemetry display for his high-performance car.
Talkmitt looked in vain for a gauge that displayed multiple performance metrics so that his windshield wasn’t cluttered with multiple screens and distracting read-outs. He then began by 3D printing the gauges’ external casings and testing them himself, subjecting the casings to high-heat environments inside cars and ovens and modifying the design to fit multiple car models.
Clients driving 1990s-style Japanese race cars, Lamborghinis, Dodge Vipers, and other high-performance vehicles immediately expressed interest in his product.
#7 Improving Engine Performance With 3D Printed Iterative Designs
Forge Motorsport, which manufactures aftermarket parts for high-performance vehicles, prototypes their parts using 3D printing. When the Toyota Yaris GR was released, Forge engineers noticed a few opportunities to improve the inlet duct design—moving the airbox opening and increasing the overall size of the part—that would reduce fluctuations in intake air temperature (IAT), which make it difficult to predict engine performance, while also lowering the overall temperature.
They reverse engineered the OEM part with 3D scanning and made virtual design changes in SOLIDWORKS, where they could simulate airflow. Once they had a workable 3D model, they prototyped it in fast-printing Draft Resin to ensure that the new location for the airbox opening worked properly and that the overall increased size of the part did not interfere with other components or cables. After confirming the basic fit, they reprinted the part in Tough 1500 Resin, a strong and impact-resistant material, painted it black to look like the final part, and gave it to a customer to test.
#8 Carbon Fiber Molding and 3D Printed End-Use Parts for Formula Cars
The Formula Student competition is an annual engineering design competition in which student teams from all over the world build and race formula-style cars. The Formula Student Team TU Berlin (FaSTTUBe) is one of the largest; since 2005, 80 to 90 students have been developing new racing cars. The team added a Form 3 SLA 3D printer to their toolkit, which they used to save time, cut costs, and create carbon fibre parts that would have been prohibitively expensive otherwise.
#9 3D Printed Spare Engine Parts
Andrea Pirazzini has been a motorcycle rider since 2012. He wanted to push himself to create a functional, safe 3D printed intake manifold for his own bike. He had previously attempted to use FDM printing technology, but the result was not what he had hoped for, as the part was not airtight and hampered the engine’s function.
Pirazzini used 3D scanning and Autodesk Fusion 360 software to reverse engineer the design for the project. The scan of the four-stroke engine (two-valve) engine with its frame and carburetor assisted him in correctly sizing and positioning the manifold. It was possible to align the diameter of the head inlet with the carburetor using CAD software, avoiding steps and any pressure drop or turbulence.
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