3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is already widely used in prototyping and modeling in the automotive industry, as well for making fixtures and tooling. Increasingly, automakers are turning to 3D printing for plastic parts and even some metal production parts.
Worldwide, Allied Market Research expects the automotive 3D printing market to reach more than $2.7 billion by 2023, with a CAGR of 19.7 percent.
Redwood City-based 3D printing company Carbon will provide two printed components for Lamborghini’s Urus Super SUV. The parts include a textured fuel cap and a clip component for an air duct. The automaker also plans to expand the use of 3D printing for other production parts.
Likewise, Aston Martin premiered its AM-RB003 hypercar this year, which uses 3D printing to help cut the weight of the vehicle by as much as 50 percent. Ford plans to print parts for its its upcoming Ford Shelby Mustang GT5000 (including two printed brackets that hold the brake line), and BMW Group includes printed brake calipers, side mirror caps, and other parts on its M850i Night Sky vehicle. (Carbon is working with both BMW and Ford.)
Ford, in fact, has opened an advanced manufacturing center near Detroit with a heavy focus on additive manufacturing, along with augmented reality technology, digital manufacturing, and collaborative robots.
Lamborghini’s parent company Volkswagen is also using Ultimaker 3D printers at its Autoeuropa factory in Portugal to making tooling, which has saved the company nearly a quarter of a million dollars in cost each year.
There are a number of benefits that automakers can realize from 3D printing, including improved design that enables part consolidation, topology optimization, and lighter weight components. Materials innovations are also important because of the potential for reducing weight.
“With Ford, we’ve been able to provide 60 percent weight reduction for the Ford Mustang GT500 electric parking brake brackets as well as 50 percent reduction in lead time and 90 percent reduction in cost for the Ford Focus HVAC lever arm,” says Paul DiLaura, Carbon’s vice president of sales.
3D printing also allows for much faster time to market by eliminating the time associated with prototype and production tools. Examples include developing new materials that open up applications to meet industry requirements, improve manufacturing efficiency; lowering costs by reducing product development cycles; and lowering prices for 3D printing resins.
According to DiLaura, Carbon and its clients evaluate parts for 3D printing potential based on three criteria: the ability to meet material and other specifications; the ability to meet the requirements to produce the part (including accuracy, surface finish and print times); and the ability to deliver unique value to the application using additive manufacturing.
“This value is usually in comparison to injection molding or other traditional manufacturing techniques. Our value is often highest when the designs are complex and therefore difficult to mold,” DiLaura says.
Aftermarket parts on demand
In the aftermarket there is a burgeoning opportunity for creating pars on demand rather than holding inventory. Porsche Classic, for example, is 3D printing a handful of replacement parts for vintage Porsches. The company currently prints less than a dozen parts, including steel and alloy parts produced using a selective laser melting process. They are also testing production of another 20 components.
The benefit? Porsche doesn’t’ have to maintain tooling to manufacture obsolete parts anymore, and also doesn’t have to hold that inventory.
“We believe there is significant market potential for the aftermarket,” DiLaura says. “It can start with very old parts where there is a high cost to establish new lines of supply when inventory is depleted, and the original tools are obsolete. These parts can be produced at a fraction of the time and cost. Over time, as more new parts are designed for AM, these parts can be produced for the aftermarket as well, thereby eliminating the need for physical inventory and moving to an ‘inventory on demand’ model.”
Customizers are also increasingly using 3D printing to fabricate custom components.
New York-based Tucci Hot Rods has replaced some of its laser cutting and CNC milling work with 3D printing of custom parts using an Ultimaker machine. That has made the more efficient, and saved as much as $500 per part.
Printing on-demand aftermarket parts raises a lot of questions around intellectual property, payments, and increased potential for counterfeit parts to enter the supply chain. DiLaura says that Carbon is already working with customers in the repair parts/aftermarket space, and sees great potential there.
“We see an opportunity for distributed manufacturing that occurs on demand and close to the point of demand. This model will allow for a faster response to customers and less time and cost associated with logistics and warehousing,” DiLaura says.