Although, you likely won’t find a 3D Printer inside of every automotive repair shop for quite some time, 3D printing and additive technologies have been working in the background to further advance the development and manufacturing of automotive parts and assemblies. In the past decade, 3D printers have transitioned from being an additional tool to have for simple prototyping to now being an essential tool to advance many aspects of the automotive business.
In this article we will go over how the implementation of additive manufacturing for automotive has helped advance and streamline many processes in the industry.
Aerodynamics and Energy Efficient Design
Since the 1980’s governments and regulatory agencies have been pushing automotive industry to develop more fuel-efficient designs. This has been compounded in the recent years with the rise in both electric and hybrid electric vehicles. To combat this issue, automotive engineers have turned to wind tunnels to ensure that the vehicle body is shaped in a way that optimizes the airflow to help increase fuel efficiency or increase the vehicles range.
Traditionally the wind tunnel models were sculpted in clay and were modified after each test until an optimal design was complete. This proved to be a very labor intensive, slow and inaccurate means of model creation.
Additive manufacturing offers a new alternative approach to the conventional process. Now engineers and designers develop 3D CAD models and put them through digital air flow simulations and then print them out prior to testing. This new method offers many improvements over the conventional system.
Now, the designers can create models with higher accuracy, reduce the time between design iterations and integrate pressure taps in the model so they can better analyze how the air is flowing over complex surfaces.
Additive Manufacturing for Automotive
Manufacturing and tooling aids represent another large segment of additive manufacturing within the automotive industry. Today automotive manufacturers are producing a high volume of customizable tooling and fixturing that offers soft touch surfaces to help them produce their vehicles quickly and with consistent quality.
Additive manufacturing also enables the manufacturer to integrate ergonomic designs into their tooling and fixture components which will help prevent operator fatigue and injury.
Today’s automotive manufacturers are producing cars at a much higher rate than ever before. This initiates the question of how consistent the assembly quality is. Due to this there has also been a rise in 3D printed quality check gauges which because of 3D printing, can have geometries that weren’t able to be produced in the past.
As mentioned previously, 3D printing offers a more cost effective and customizable solution compared to traditional manufacturing techniques, giving manufacturers the ability to implement design improvements and create replacement fixtures much faster and cheaper than before.
Aftermarket and Upgraded Parts
In the past, the aftermarket automotive parts industry has developed a reputation for producing poorly fitting, low-quality parts. This is another sector where 3D printing has had a big impact. Now aftermarket manufacturers can iterate their designs and perform fit testing much cheaper and at a much higher rate as before. This allows them to be able to have a more refined final product while ensuring their costs remain low.
To further this point, performance upgrades such as high flow cold air intake manifolds and heat exchangers have been enhanced by creating very complex internal geometries that were otherwise impossible to create with traditional manufacturing. 3D printing gives the mechanical designers the ability to think outside the box and refine their performance upgrades to a higher degree than ever before.
Production of End Use Parts
In addition to utilizing additive manufacturing for prototyping and testing new components, many automotive manufacturers are now turning to 3D printing to produce functional end use parts.
As mentioned before, the industry is progressing to become more energy efficient and more sustainable. In order to achieve this, many manufacturers have been working to reduce the overall weight of their vehicles. A light vehicle is a more efficient vehicle!
To help automotive manufacturers produce lighter assemblies and vehicles, many CAD programs have been developing toolsets to help engineers develop parts that use the least amount of material while still being able to support the parts loading conditions. A popular software SOLIDWORKS uses Topology studies to achieve this.
The downside is these parts become very complex and often feature very organic shapes that are extremely difficult to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques. This is where additive manufacturing really plays an influential role. Now with the help of bulk additive manufacturing systems like the Stratasys H350, these parts can be produced quickly and cost effectively. This will help manufacturers produce parts at the volume they need, while ensuring that they have the most optimal design and the most innovative product.
Streamlining Supply Chain for Large Part Assemblies
The automotive industry has been taking advantage of stamped metal processing to develop parts that are quick and easy to produce and can be standardized for all models of vehicles. These stamped metal parts are then combined into an assembly to become the final component before being installed on the car.
This is a highly labor-intensive process but has been standardized in the industry because it is so cost effective. Alternatively, there have been recent examples of companies consolidating these assemblies into single parts with the use of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This has helped streamline supply chain (less parts) and has reduced the components time to market.
In the past, Additive Manufacturing technologies and 3D printing was viewed as a bonus tool for small part prototyping. However, with recent advancements in the technology, large automotive manufacturers have quickly adopted this means of manufacturing to transform their processes and products to a more efficient products and processes.
Interested in having an Additive Manufacturing Application Engineer complete an onsite 3D printing and scanning evaluation to help you roll out an Additive Manufacturing plan? Contact Us
Learn more in our on-demand Automotive webinar hosted by Eric Bryant, Application Engineer at TriMech and Stratasys’ Global Transportation Director, Fadi Abro.