The automotive industry is currently going through a highly intense period characterized by technological innovations and increasing pressure regarding environmental norms. There is greater focus on electrified vehicles, self-driving vehicles, connected cars and concepts like ride-sharing. Automotive manufacturers are also struggling with lightweighting and minimization of production costs
3D Printing is one technology that has the capability to disrupt the automotive industry with its capacity to slash production costs, cutting the time needed for vehicle design and enabling more personalization options.
Currently use of 3 D printing has moved from the design studios where it is used for prototyping to the factory floor for the production of serial production parts which are lightweight and are not needed in large quantities. Porsche recently announced that it would be using 3D printing to make new parts for classic cars. Another application of 3 D printing in the automotive industry is to make highly tailored tools that can help streamline the production process, as Opel did when it used 3D printing for factory floor tools.
Volvo Trucks used 3 D printing at its factory in Lyon, France to make lightweight clamps, jigs, supports and tool holders for the production line. 3 D printing offers significant cost efficiencies for making small quantities of tools when compared to the cost of making such tools from metal. It also reduces the time needed to design and manufacture such tools with the time needed to make certain tools decreasing from 36 days to just two days when they were made with thermoplastic ABSplus instead of metal. Another company that uses 3 D printing is Ford, which uses the technology for the manufacture of production-line tools and individual parts.
Using 3 D printing for mass production is highly effective if it can help shave production time. Manufacturers of 3 D pronters are currently testing their limits when it comes to new technology and material developments. They have managed to develop tough, durable FDM thermoplastics which can tolerate rugged manufacturing environments.
The need for lightweighting in the interest of increasing fuel efficiency is another factor promoting greater research into 3 D printing in the case of the automotive industry. 3 D printing, unlike other technologies can help optimize performance-to-weight ratios through complex geometric designs, and can also be used to make lightweight parts.
Other benefits 3 D printing offers for the automotive industry include the scope it allows for decentralized production and customization. With 3 D printing, it is possible to centralize digitally and decentralize physically, so that the end product is more uniform. The digitized CAD files for the production process can be distributed worldwide to every manufacturing hub so that the manufacturing process is more coordinated. In the case of luxury brand like Porsche, 3 D printing makes it possible to print custom parts without hard tooling so that the cost is less and production is fast.
With new trends in mobility like car sharing and autonomy, it looks like 3 printing is here to stay
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