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Printing the Future: Companies Embracing 3D Printed Car Parts

The future of design, development and manufacturing will inevitably include the exciting technology of 3D printing, especially as there’s an ever-growing market for it. According to the organisation Global Industry Analysts, the global market for 3D printing is expected to reach the dizzying heights of almost $10 billion by 2020; suggesting that although the technology isn’t entirely new anymore, now is the time to embrace it.

 

Take a look at TestDriven’s video about 3D printed car parts and how BMW celebrates 3D printing. Dr. Dominik Rietzel discusses the scanning, preparing and printing process of their auto parts:

 

 

 

Some of the biggest players in the industry are already exploring the possibilities of 3D printing, including GM and Ford, yet for years most of these applications have been for prototype purposes. This is quickly becoming a thing of the past though, with many different companies beginning to experiment with ways to make use of this exciting technology; so much so that they use a new term for those specialising in 3D printing - Additive Manufacturing.

 

Stratasys, an Israeli manufacturer of 3D printers, is generally seen as the go-to company for the big fish of the industries. One of Stratasys’ most cutting edge creations, the Infinite Build, has already been utilised to create the likes of car spoilers for prototype cars, with plans to use them for future production vehicles.

 

 

The Infinite Build technology is also being used for an array of different applications, such as creating large tools. This eclectic application shows just how much Ford is experimenting with 3D printed car parts, going so far as to state that in the near future they’ll be using them for personalised car parts.

 

Ellen Lee, Ford’s Technical Leader for Additive Manufacturing Research, states: “With the Infinite Build technology, we are now able to print fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” which suggests that Ford is already looking into ways to more effectively utilise 3D printing. 

 

An additional, interesting element that 3D printing brings to the factories of Ford is the automated nature of the technology. As most may know, any type of 3D printer requires two things to fabricate a design; a blueprint and raw material. The former will always be created by a designer, and conventionally the latter is inserted manually, however, Ford revealed that they make use of a more efficient method of keeping their 3D printers working. When their systems detect that these supplies of raw materials are empty, a robotic arm automatically swaps out the old, emptied canister with a brand new, full one. This system essentially makes the entire process possible to continue working, unattended, for hours or days at a time.

 

 

These advancements in the technology signal an even more impressive future with 3D printed auto parts. Though the tech hasn’t reached the level of being super-quick to rival current production speeds, it appears that the intricacies of the designs are becoming more and more advanced by the day. Producers of essential car parts, such as exhausts and engines, can rest for now knowing that 3D printing hasn’t usurped them just yet; but it certainly appears that that day will be dawning soon.

 

This proclamation isn’t made with bluster but with the boundless confidence of the higher-ups of industry-titans like GM. Kevin Quinn, GM’s Director of Additive Design and Manufacturing, told Reuters in June of 2019 that he believes that 3D printed car parts will appear in “high-end motorsports applications over the next five years” and that “tens of thousands of parts” will also scale up as the technology improves.

 

The world of high-end motorsports has already proven this to be true, with reports of McLaren Racing Limited using 3D printing for their car parts reaching back from 2017. Pioneers on the race track, McLaren started utilising 3D printing in a bid to vastly reduce the wait-time for specialised car parts. With around a dozen Stratasys 3D printers being used in their Greater London based office, McLaren has plans to eventually utilise a 3D printer right in the pit stop to make their engineering and part replacement process as streamlined as the cars themselves.

 

 

Neil Oatley, the Design and Development Director at McLaren Racing Limited, emphasised just how vital they see 3D printing as a part of their high-end race cars’ futures, stating: “It’s important to gain as many small improvements to the car’s performance as quickly as we can; if it allows us to bring a part to the track one race or two races earlier, that accumulates throughout the season.”

 

Other companies have developed alternative means to utilise 3D printing in more general manners, such as the aforementioned interior car parts being produced. Divergent 3D is one such company that, through specially designed technology, is able to use aluminium alloy powder as a raw material in lieu of plastic. It should go without saying that this opens the door to an entirely new world of 3D printed possibilities.

 

“Right now, Divergent 3D is working on structural parts and suspension components,” says Kevin Czinger, Divergent 3D’s Founder and CEO, “but over time large, complex structures like cylinder heads and engine blocks will be 3D printed,” Czinger explains how these innovations will not only be more cost-effective for producing cars but will greatly contribute to lowering the vehicle’s overall weight. Lower weight means lower fuel consumption, which is just good news for all involved.

 

The future of 3D printing car parts is certainly exciting, with plenty of different companies deciding to adopt this new technology and strides being taken at a rapid pace. Personally, we’re excited about what’s coming next, but what do you think? Be sure to tell us all about it on twitter!

 

 

Posted by Mark Harris
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