Car companies are using 3D printing technologies more and more to reduce times to market, eliminate costs from the production line, and produce complex parts. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to conduct rapid revisions and alterations without significant delays and expenses, which are commonplace with conventional manufacturing methods.
But what are the specifics behind how automakers are applying 3D printing? Let’s take a look at how the automotive industry, from the powerhouse carmakers turning out millions of vehicles a year to the smaller outfits producing bespoke creations for select clientele, is using this up and coming technology.
VW is one of the largest automakers in the world, starting out as the “people’s car” (the literal translation of “Volkswagen”) in the late 1930s and transforming into the modern-day multinational corporation. In 2018, they sold 10.8 million vehicles worldwide.
One arm of the business, VW Autoeuropa, has revolutionized the manufacturing workflow through 3D printing tooling, jigs, and fixtures for the cars produced in its Portugal factory, namely the VW Scirocco, Sharan, and the Seat Alhambra.
VW Autoeuropa has teamed up for this endeavor with Ultimaker, currently utilizing seven of their FDM 3D printers and, in doing so, producing in-house 93% of all previously externally-manufactured tools. Essential items that have been transformed include the following:
These examples represent small pieces of the puzzle but have contributed to expected savings of around €325,000 ($360,000). The 3D printed tools are additionally more ergonomic and facilitate increased efficiencies in manufacturing due to designs additionally accommodating ease of operation.
Bugatti (now part of the Volkswagen Group) is a French manufacturer of luxury, high-performance cars. Since its birth in 1909, Bugatti has been famed for a high level of detail and artistic execution of designs, stemming from its founding father, the Italian-born designer Ettore Bugatti.
In recent years, Bugatti has been using metal additive manufacturing, namely in the production of a bionically-optimized front axle differential housing. To date, this part is the largest functional titanium component printed using selective laser melting (SLM) to have been tested.
Check out the video of the dynamic bench test of the titanium caliper, with the following extreme temperature, strength and stiffness targets met:
Not all of the credit should go to the VW group – Siemens lent their part-optimization expertise to reduce iterations and find the correct balance between weight and rigidity.
A second component, an active spoiler bracket, was also produced at a weight reduction of 5.4 kg (53%) but with increased rigidity. This helps to support the aerodynamic requirements of the spoiler, which must endure accelerating to 400 km/h in 32.6 seconds and then decelerating to zero in just 9 seconds.
Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) is a British supercar company based in Liverpool and manufacturer of the new and iconic Mono.
In designing the lighter and better-performing Mono R, BAC focused on 3D printing techniques to extract every last drop of speed. Materials supplier DSM were brought on board and provided two materials that were used in end-use parts:
The Stratasys F900 FDM 3D printer was BAC’s main weapon of choice, cutting the lead time for testing parts, such as the air intake, from over two weeks to a matter of hours.
Steering wheel grips fully customized to the driver have also been produced, facilitating an unparalleled level of bespoke options for customers. The introduction of these AM components has largely contributed to a 20-kg reduction in weight of the Mono R (down from 580 to 560 kg).
Hackrod is a digital industrial design company based in California, and with its car La Bandita, it has attempted to create a fully-customizable vehicle using a mixture of 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI). The intention is to build self-designed cars using generative algorithms.
Siemens has also come on board, providing a wide range of software tools through their flagship Siemens Digital Industries Software.
Hackrod aims to manufacture time-consuming parts, in particular the chassis, using additive manufacturing techniques. To do this, they’re exploring the processes required to 3D print a full-size generatively-designed chassis in aluminium using metal deposition techniques.
Since 2018, the company has successfully printed the La Bandita chassis using a unique hybrid manufacturing technique. In particular, they combine a polymer material, printed through extrusion, and aluminum, printed using a wire arc process. These two AM methods are combined with 5-axis CNC machining (on a Siemens Sinumerik 840D), and the following steps are taken to achieve the finished chassis:
In the end, only La Bandita’s chassis, frame, and body supports will be 3D printed. The other components will come from a library of existing parts that are suitable for reuse. Hackrod have also launched the world’s first motorcycle designed, engineered, and printed “straight out of a video game.” The future looks exciting for Hackrod and additive manufacturing!
The BMW Group incorporating Mini and Rolls-Royce. Over 230,000 cars across the group were sold worldwide in 2018. BMW has been actively researching AM technologies since 1990, with a project 3D printing bespoke seats for the British Paralympic Basketball team, laying the foundations for 3D printing finding its way into their road cars:
David Brown Automotive is a small, independent manufacturer based out of Silverstone, the heart of motor racing in the UK. They have successfully carved out a niche in combining retro designs and traditional crafting, showcasing the “best of British” with state-of-the-art technology and engineering.
Expertise in low-volume manufacturing combined with the retro and modern mashup is no more apparent than on their Speedback GT model:
In the Mini Remastered model, the rear seat door pockets are also 3D printed in the factory. All of this 3D printing was born from a simple cost and timing analysis, which made clear it was worthwhile to produce interior components this way. In doing so, complex shapes were possible and additional tooling was eliminated from the manufacturing process.
Local Motors (LM) is a ground mobility company with a core focus on shaping the future for the better. Since 2007, it has aimed to collaborate and co-create, using open-source designs to begin low-volume manufacture across a series of micro-factories:
Many more fantastic automotive projects are underway that utilize AM technologies, and they’re sure to push the industry further in the next few years:
The future really does look bright for carmakers using and developing additive manufacturing technologies and processes. Only time will tell if they continue to drive the development of Industry 4.0 through the next decade and beyond.
(Lead image source: 3dprintingmedia.network)
License: The text of "Cars and 3D Printing: The Story So Far…" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.