Throughout 2017, we saw a substantial increase in the adoption of 3D printing for aeronautical parts. Now, the automotive looks to embrace this upward trending technology, as all indicators point to 2018 being the year 3D printing for production truly breaks through into the industry. 3D printing is ready for the challenge too. Additive manufacturing technologies for mass production are poised to provide quality parts, quick. In terms of material properties, 3D printing features a variety of metal and polymer/composites capable of meeting end-use part requirements – all at a substantially lower rate. These benefits have certainly caught the attention of automakers, and as we enter into the new year, the race is starting.
MINI Drives Mass Customization
MINI has worked hard to fine-tune their digital design and production workflow throughout their additive manufacturing processes, and it seems to be paying dividends. In late December, British-German automotive company MINI gave an announcement titles MINI Yours Customised. The announcement unveiled a revolutionary new service that MINI will offer its customers. Aiming to rival BMW’s vast customization range for its customers, MINI created this mass customization service through strategic partnerships with HP, Barbon and EOS. The MINI Yours Customised service will allow customers at MINI to select, design and order 3D printed part upgrades an in all-new online shop.
These 3D printed parts have all met high-quality standards in form, safety and functionality – matching or even exceeding the performance of the original MINI range of accessories. The unique part is that each individual customer can use their own creativity and style to create the exact part design they prefer.
“When the personal designs are produced, the user is guided through the individual operating stages as they create their personal design and they are able to give free rein to their creativity within this framework. For example, the side scuttles and the trims can be designed with colors, surface finishes and patterns in any sequence. Finishes and patterns are variable in scale and can be scaled to meet the users’ requirements. The user is also provided with a list of design worlds from which thematically tailored colors and specific icons can be selected.”
Daimler Races Forward with Automation
While MINI pushes for mass customization, which will undoubtedly be a major benefit in the early stages of automotive 3D printing for end-use part production, other companies are exploring other uses of this groundbreaking technology. Daimler Group, which includes Mercedes-Benz, has turned their sights on actual part production with both plastic and metal 3D printing. In order to achieve this, the company purchased a large format Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing system. SLS 3D printing systems feature a large build volume and are able to 3D print products using polypropylene – an extremely cos-efficient material with excellent mechanical properties.
Back in April of 2017, Daimler Group announced they would begin integrating 3D printing into their production processes to create on-demand parts for use in the Daimler Buses division. At the time of this announcement, the German automotive powerhouse has already 3D printed nearly 800 components for customer vehicles. Adding to that number, the group had also validated over 150 different 3D printed replacements parts. According to one source at the company:
“3D printing provides the bus division within the Daimler Group with a means of responding swiftly, flexibly, economically and ecologically to individual customer requests and requirements for replacement parts. In top quality and with low production costs: the 3D parts correspond to the injection molding standards stipulated by Daimler AG, while avoiding the costs relating to tool production, component storage and the disposal of surplus materials.”
The group now looks to advance their entire industrial automotive 3D printing process and their project team is now looking into what parts for here additive manufacturing process – from the delivery of metal powder to the processing stages after the build process itself – can be automated. Finding these could potentially save the company millions as their process stages, both before and after manufacturing, account for about 70% of their manufacturing costs.
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Ford, Fiat & Local Motors Race for Perfection
Innovations for 3D printing in the automotive industry are coming from all angles of the products and manufacturing processes. Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA) is currently dedicating a significant amount of time to develop SLS materials with outstanding part quality. Aside from this, their design branch is also exploring ways to fully exploit optimized design for additive manufacturing in order to lower costs due to the fact that they specialize in the mass-production of cars with affordable pricing.
In a much different fashion. Local Motors, a U.S. startup company, is exploring ways to scale up its 3D printed car company globally. Their self-driving vehicle, OLLI, is produced mainly of 3D printed parts and is virtually fully-customizable for customers.
Ford Motor Company is looking to find potential applications of 3D printing in the future production of their vehicles, Ford Performance products and personalized car parts. The company firmly believes that 3D printing is becoming increasingly cheaper and allows for the production of affordable and efficient large automotive parts such as spoilers. This could potentially benefit the company greatly as ever-changing customer demands, in terms of mass-customization and performance, could be met faster, cheaper and better.
The Future of Automotive Design
“One of the most exciting aspects of 3D printing is opening the door for designers to unleash their creativity on part designs by incorporating thin walls, web-like lattices, and other elaborate features. Advances in direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), for instance, now enable automakers to create more complex assemblies and intricate parts, such as engine components, that have the properties of metal and would otherwise be too costly or difficult—or even impossible—to machine.
As automakers integrate 3D printing more into their operations, understanding how to get the most out of the process will be crucial. By working with a supplier that understands part orientation as part of the 3D-printing process, for example, companies can produce higher-quality parts that require less secondary finishing.”
3D printing is opening up new doors for automotive manufacturers, and will only continue break more barriers as the technology is used and experimented with. Continued advances in the technology will allow manufacturers to simplify the design process, integrate new manufacturing methods, reduce parts weight, cost and production time, and enable on-demand part production.