3D printing has conquered the market right from ‘A’ for ‘aerospace’ to’ Z’ for ‘zoology’, each industry has started using 3D printing technology for developing new things. 3D printing in automotive industry has been one of the key sectors that has adopted this technology. In automotive, 3D printing is being used in prototypes, concept cars, unique cars, motor sports and now in manufacturing.
Automotive industries were one of the first customers for 3D printing companies and have adopted a number of technologies including FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) , Powder Bed Fusion (also called SLM, DMLS, LS, ALM), Stereolithography (SLA, vat polymerization) and binder jetting.
Automotive companies first used 3D printing in prototyping. Visual prototypes were made of concept cars or parts. Later on form and fit testing with 3D printed prototypes was done. 3D printing provided car manufacturers with a relatively quick method to fabricate unique parts cost-effectively.
Concept car interiors are an example of one-off affairs that would be cost prohibitive to make with another technology. For these types of parts, Stereolithography is usually used. 3D printing car body parts are then hand finished and then coated or painted. Polyjet, a technology that uses an inkjet head to print a photopolymer, is also used for visual prototypes and to test individual car parts. Selective Laser Sintering (LS, powder bed fusion) is also used to make form and fit parts such as interiors for testing and evaluation.
In the world of bespoke automobiles the sky is the limit. A customer approaches a car customization company or a designer with a set of wishes and demands which are specific to that individual. Often designs must be outlandish or very unique and therefore, 3D printing in automotive industry has been exceptionally well integrated.
Companies will of course use standard parts when they can and turns to CNC usually for metal custom parts. But interior fixtures, dashboards, housings, clamps and all manner of car parts have been created for these unique cars.
Initially this was only done for bespoke cars but lately car company customization services and aftermarket companies have been deploying 3D printing in this way. Stereolithography or FDM parts can be chromed for use as unique enclosures or the parts may be coated or painted.With the advent of lower cost desktop 3D printers aftermarket companies have been increasingly turning to these systems to try to make unique parts for people who want custom spoilers or add ons inside the car itself.
Classic Car Parts
A related development is the increasing experimentation going on with classic car parts. Some parts are rare or impossible to obtain. In a few cases individuals have 3D printed car body parts and chromed them to replace parts that they cannot obtain.
People have also used 3D printing to make casts for metal parts. 3D printing services and car restoration companies are increasingly using 3D printing in this way. Door handles, signage, interior parts, engine bay parts and engine parts for classic cars are now currently being made.
Formula 1 and other car racing series have been using 3D printing for a number of years. Part lightness is very important in car racing and with 3D printing metal parts can be replaced by plastics or parts can be redesigned for 3D printing to save weight. Metal 3D printing technologies and plastics are widely used in many applications in Motorsports. Engine parts, panels, mirrors, wings, plank parts and many other components are being used.
Generally in Motorsports people are looking at high strength materials and look at using filled grades for example. Fire retardancy is also a consideration as well. Metal and plastics 3D printing technologies are used for these applications. Initially wind tunnel prototypes were one of the first uses. As 3D printing matured however more applications were found to make high strength weight saving parts on the cars themselves. [Source]
Ford 3D printing technology
Ford today is said to will be the first automaker to test a new 3D printer that can build parts of unlimited size. The company is also testing the printer to make prototypes of one-piece auto parts that could be used in production of future vehicles.
The use of a 3D printer, capable of manufacturing parts of unlimited size and shape “could be a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing,” the automaker stated in a news release.
Ford is testing the Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D printer, which was one of two new industrial machines announced last fall. The printer can also build objects using materials such as carbon fiber for lighter weight and stronger parts.
For example, Ford said, a 3D-printed spoiler may weigh less than half of its metal-cast equivalent.
“Increasingly affordable and efficient, 3D printing large car parts, like car spoilers, could benefit both Ford and consumers,” Ford stated. “Parts that are printed can be lighter in weight than their traditionally manufactured counterparts, and may help improve fuel efficiency.”
3D printing technology, Ford said, can provide a more efficient and affordable way to produce tooling, prototype parts, or components at low volumes, like Ford Performance vehicles, or for personalized car parts.
The new 3D print system is located at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich. The Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer was designed specifically to address the requirements of the aerospace and automotive industries by being able to build completed parts with repeatable mechanical properties. [Source]
Be it Ford, Rolls Royce, Mustang or even Mahindra, 3D printing technology has taken over the automotive industry completely. There’s no doubt, though, that the automotive applications are huge and 3D printing now sits at the core of the car industry. It’s a relationship that can only improve and soon we could have full printed cars from the ground up.
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