Achieving Mass Manufacture of Automobiles Using Additive Manufacturing Techniques

Auto Tech Outlook | Thursday, November 25, 2021

FREMONT, CA: Today, 3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing (AM), is employed throughout the automobile manufacturing process, from prototyping and tool fabrication through spare and end-part production, allowing automakers to remain agile and innovative.  As 3D printing gains traction in the automotive industry, consider some intriguing aspects influencing the technology's future in the sector.

Integrating additive manufacturing into automobile serial production

The car sector was one of the early users of rapid prototyping using 3D printing. Automobile manufacturers have now identified indirect (e.g., molds) and direct part production as the ultimate value proposition for additive manufacturing.

This shift in emphasis reflects an exciting trend: automotive and additive manufacturing OEMs are embarking on a path toward digital mass production. The automotive industry's manufacturing requirements are unique, requiring great productivity, low material prices, and a high degree of automation. Simultaneously, the industry is shaped by shifting market trends, supply chain dynamics, and regulatory requirements, not to mention the tendency toward mass customization. To meet the requirements of automobile component manufacturing, the additive manufacturing sector must evolve swiftly. However, people can notice the development of new technologies that enable more significant parts, higher volumes, and faster turnaround times. This advancement is primarily due to hardware advancements and enhanced process automation. For instance, metal binder jetting is emerging as a viable manufacturing method, and it has a faster printing speed than conventional metal additive manufacturing technologies, particularly advantageous for automakers.

In terms of automation, automakers are searching for ways to streamline various phases of the assembly process. This includes incorporating design tools to automate DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing), enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to establish workflow management and traceability, and automated post-processing hardware.

Meanwhile, the supply of end-use materials that match automotive specifications continues to grow. Material development businesses recognize the promise of combining 3D printing and car manufacturing and commercializing UV-stable, durable polymers and common automotive metals such as aluminum and steel. While additive manufacturing aligns with the automotive industry's needs, final part production using the technology is only now gaining traction. This traction will accelerate within the next five to ten years due to technological advancements and new additive manufacturing applications for serial production.

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