Applications of 3D Printing in Automotive Manufacturing
3D printing is one of the most exciting developments in fabrication and manufacturing over the past decade. By enabling the production in real time of economical, detailed 3D models of almost limitless complexity, 3D printing has totally changed the automotive manufacturing process. What used to take months of painstaking handiwork can now be accomplished virtually immediately in a few keystrokes with 3D printing.
3D printing has made it possible to quickly and economically create detailed 3D models of any part at any stage of the manufacturing process. Since 3D printing eliminates the need to specially fabricate or hand machine prototypes of specialty tools, molds and other production related items, 3D printing helps companies control costs. Issues that used to take weeks to identify, such as design flaws, manufacturing incompatibilities, and other errors, can be quickly discovered and re-worked thanks to 3D printing at a fraction of the costs that used to be associated with this process.
Shorter, Simpler Time to Market
Automobile designers, engineers, and manufacturers can also shorten their time in R&D by utilizing 3D printing technology to bring concepts to life almost immediately. The 3D printing process produces tangible, three dimensional physical representations can help clear lines of communication between team members in a way that 2D drawings and computerized modeling never could. Simply, and inexpensively, 3D printing creates different 3D printed samples to compare, that can weed out infeasible concepts quickly and efficiently. By making failures cheap, 3D printing encourages risk taking in innovation, while sparking new ideas. 3D printing saves both time and money at every step in the design and manufacturing process.
Additionally, 3D printing represents a huge step forward for market testing. Verifying an automotive product or feature’s market potential, prior to its launch, is much easier with inexpensive, simple, and readily available 3D printing. The simplicity and ease with which 3D printed items can be customized also leads to greater consumer satisfaction. Companies can now offer an endless variety of 3D printing choices like sizes, colors, shapes, and other options while maintaining an attractive price point. This ease of 3D printing customization has significant advantages in many automotive applications. Imagine being able to have automobile seats custom fitted to your needs or the exact size and shape steering wheel that you want through 3D printing.
Customization Is Key
Since 3D printing results in made-to-order, custom creations without extra material needed for production, it also results in much less waste and is more environmentally friendly than many traditional manufacturing processes. 3D printing helps keep overhead down. A single 3D printer can do the same work as multiple other automotive manufacturing processes, further cutting manufacturing costs.
Another significant advantage to the use of 3D printing applications in automotive design is the ability to overcome the physical limitations of traditional machining. With the advent of 3D printing, product designs are no longer constrained to the capabilities of the machines that used to create them. 3D printing eliminates geometrical limitations that used to contraindicate design features, such as holes that change direction. With 3D printing technology, almost any design that the material can support is possible and can be created nearly instantly in multiple variations.
Clearly, 3D printing is revolutionizing the way automobile manufacturers and designers are creating products. As advances in technology bring us ever stronger and more lightweight materials, it’s possible that one day entire cars may be produced with 3D printing, and new 3D printing produced products will be brought to market continuously, on an as purchased basis, eliminating costly, wasteful, and time consuming production lines. A true revolution in manufacturing, 3D printing is changing production as we know it.