D Printing From Automotive Design To The Factory Floor

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D Printing From Automotive Design To The Factory Floor

Postby 3dtech » Sun Sep 30, 2018 9:07 pm

The Move To Mass Production

Over recent years, 3D printing’s technology proposition has expanded considerably from its heritage in rapid prototyping to producing serial production parts. Creating tailored tools to increase efficiency on the factory floor is one of the most significant emerging applications of 3D printing in automotive today.


For example, Volvo Trucks has used FDM 3D printing to design durable yet lightweight clamps, jigs, supports and tool holders for the production line. By replacing metal tools with 3D printed custom tools for direct use on the factory floor, the cost of 3D printing these tools can be as little as 1€/cm3—making the same item from metal costs 100€/cm3.

Making Light Work

Material development in 3D printing is a constant, with engineers working on higher chemical resistance for fuel exposure and optimal combinations of toughness, ductility and stiffness for durability. New material introductions, such as those that are reinforced with carbon fiber, are making new applications possible. Composite materials like this in 3D printing provide the strength of metal, with the light weight of plastic.

The drivers in the automotive market are tough. The need for fuel efficiency is not going to go away, and lighter vehicles require less energy, whether due to higher fuel mileage or longer battery life. 3D printing offers not only the option of lightweight parts but optimizing performance-to-weight ratios through complex geometric designs, which cannot be achieved with other technologies.

Decentralized Production

Another way to reduce environmental impact and production costs is decentralized production. 3D printing allows for this while maintaining centralized coordination.

Today, if a manufacturer is going to produce the same vehicle in two locations, the design and components of the vehicles produced at each location will largely be the same, but tooling and production processes will often be different. It’s a risk for the manufacturer, but one that is currently accepted. It’s also inefficient, since it’s possible for two separate tooling vendors to produce different designs for the same assembly fixture. With the ability to centralize digitally and decentralize physically, the most efficient fixture can be created and then distributed worldwide via a CAD file. Manufacturers reap the benefits of decentralized supply chains without the risk of localized inefficiencies.

Where Next?

Historically, custom parts were almost exclusively restricted to luxury vehicles and race cars, but over the past decade, special editions and limited run vehicles have become increasingly common. While mass production efficiencies still drive most of the common components across these vehicles, styling, personalization and unique features in these special production vehicles have become more economical because of 3D printing.
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What will the car of the future look like? The possibilities are endless, and we will see a lot of variety in the types of functions vehicle interiors begin to serve. More flexibility and more options ultimately mean mass customization over mass production. And that is clearly a fit for 3D printing.


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