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3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

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on Aug 4 2014 , 08:34:10
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Automobile companies are some of the heaviest users of 3D printing in industry. They use 3D printing for a wide array of applications and have been for years. Because there is so much design and engineering involved and due to the sheer number of parts in a modern automobile 3D printing is an ideal technology for testing and prototyping these parts.

But, automobile companies are looking much further these days and looking towards manufacturing with 3D printers. I’ve listed some examples of how the automobile industry uses 3D printing. 

1. For prototyping of parts. Car manufacturers and Tier 1 automotive suppliers use 3D printing to print out the initial prototypes of things such as door handles, bits of the interior of the car. This aids in engineers discussing the parts and sharing these with other teams and suppliers. Initially this was only done for visual prototypes but more applications are being found.

2. Form & Fit testing. Increasingly items such as door handles are tested by engineering teams and even customers. This lets people give feedback on a new part, often made 5 years or more before the car comes out. It lets people test the functionality of the part and see how it would work in more complex assemblies.

PininfarinaSintesiConceptInterior1280x960

Materialise 3D printed the interior of the Pininfarina Sintesi Concept Car

3. Concept Cars. Concept cars have been 3D printed for a while now. The main application is to 3D print the interior of the car. Because the concept car is a series of one 3D printing is often the least expensive option.

Jaguar-C-X75-interior

Materialise 3D printed the interior of the Jaguar CX 75 Concept car.

4. Parts in small series production. There are very few examples of series production parts. The Veyron has a 3D printed dashboard. Because each car is made by hand minute differences mean that a mass produced dash would not work. So for each Veyron a unique dashboard is 3D printed. In the early production model of a 100 pre production Lamborghini Gallardo’s a Headlight Washer Cover Flap had to be produced. Because of the small series this part was 3D printed using selective laser sintering & Windform materials.

5. Unique cars. You might think that a wealthy person buys a Bentley or Ferrari. And thats true. But, really wealthy people customize these cars a lot. Sometimes individualized components, monograms and the like inside the car are customized. But, what about really really wealthy people? They make their own cars. They go to design firms like Pininfarina & Guigaro and design their own cars and then get them made by the likes of Ferrari. For these one offs many components are 3D printed.

Titanium F1 gearbox by CRP Group

Titanium F1 gearbox by CRP Group

6. Motorsport. Formula 1 makes extensive use of 3D printing for prototyping and also of parts in the car such as gearboxes. Many other motor sports also use 3D printing for things such as exhaust manifolds, spindles, camshafts, valves, ducts, air intakes, covers, dashboards etc.

F1 Steering Wheel by CRP Group.

F1 Steering Wheel by CRP Group.

7. Local Motors & Urbee. Local Motors uses 3D printing extensively in its crowd designed car. The Urbee has a completely 3D printed body made by Stratasys. Indeed I believe that Stratasys is working on a large scale high throughput 3D printing process for automobile parts.

Joris Peels is a heavyweight 3D printing industry commentator who doesn’t shy away from discussions and is never short on educated, animated opinions. Joris blogs about 3D printing at VoxelFab and works as a consultant in the 3D printing industry. He previously worked for Shapeways and i.materialise and as a developer of Origo, a 3D printer for kids.

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