Exploring the Top 10 Innovative Applications of 3D Printing in the Automotive Sector for 2021

Exploring the Top 10 Innovative Applications of 3D Printing in the Automotive Sector for 2021

The automotive industry grapples with the demand for advanced, high-performance vehicles and the imperative to optimize production while streamlining supply chains and logistics.One technology that is helping to meet these challenges is 3D printing.

It is now being extensively explored across various facets of automotive production. Beyond its established role in rapid prototyping, 3D printing is increasingly utilized for tooling and, in some instances, the production of end parts.

As the scope of automotive 3D printing applications continues to widen, here are some compelling examples of how companies in the automotive sector leverage this technology to elevate their production processes.”

1. Volkswagen Autoeuropa: 3D-printed manufacturing tools

Tooling and Manufacturing Aids

“While 3D printing has traditionally been used for creating prototypes in the automotive industry, there’s a growing trend in using this technology for tooling. Take Volkswagen as an exciting example. They’ve been incorporating 3D printing into their production for several years now.

Back in 2014, Volkswagen initiated the use of 3D printers to manufacture tooling equipment at their Autoeuropa factory in Portugal. The success of this pilot project led Volkswagen to transition almost entirely to 3D printing for their tooling production.

The advantages of using 3D printing for tooling are significant. Producing tools in-house reduces the costs for Volkswagen by a whopping 90% and shortens lead times from weeks to just a few days. For instance, a tool like a liftgate badge that would traditionally take 35 days to develop and cost up to €400 can now be produced in four days at a cost of just €10 using 3D printing.

Volkswagen’s shift to 3D-printed tooling reportedly saved them nearly €325,000 in 2017, all while improving ergonomics, productivity, and operator satisfaction. As 3D printing becomes a more widely adopted solution for manufacturing aids, it’s anticipated that more automotive companies will follow suit in the coming years, enhancing the efficiency of their production processes and the overall performance of their tools.”

2. 3D printing spare parts for classic cars

Porsche 3D prints multiple spare parts for its classic cars [Image Source : Porsche]

Porsche 3D prints multiple spare parts for its classic cars [Image source : Porsche]

Porsche Classic is revolutionizing its approach to manufacturing spare parts for vintage and out-of-production models by harnessing the power of 3D printing. This strategic move addresses the unique challenges associated with obsolete or deteriorated tooling, a common issue for components that are no longer in production.

The German car company’s Classic division specializes in supplying parts for its historic models, and with many of these parts becoming increasingly rare or unavailable, Porsche Classic has turned to 3D printing to produce low-volume spare parts efficiently. The conventional methods of manufacturing new tooling aids are often cost-prohibitive, especially when dealing with the low volumes associated with vintage cars. In some cases, the required tooling may no longer exist, or its condition may be suboptimal.

To overcome these challenges, Porsche Classic has embraced the concept of on-demand 3D printing. This innovative approach involves the production of spare parts in both metal and plastic, using a high-energy laser beam to melt metal powder or employing sintering for plastics. The result is the creation of three-dimensional objects, layer by layer, without the need for additional tools.

One of the key advantages of this 3D printing method is its ability to produce parts only when needed, eliminating the necessity for extensive storage and tooling. This not only streamlines the manufacturing process but also significantly reduces associated costs. The precision and flexibility offered by 3D printing allow Porsche Classic to address the specific demands of its vintage and out-of-production models, ensuring that rare spare parts are readily available to meet customer needs.

Beyond Porsche Classic, the adoption of 3D printing for spare parts is a growing trend in the automotive supply chain. Companies like Mercedes-Benz Trucks, Volkswagen, and BMW have also recognized the potential benefits of this technology. By embracing 3D printing, these automotive giants aim to cut costs, enhance operational efficiency, and optimize inventory management in alignment with the evolving landscape of the industry.

3. Porsche’s 3D-printed custom seats

Porsche’s 3D-printed custom seats

image source : Porsche

Porsche has unveiled an innovative sports car seating concept that integrates 3D printing and lattice design. The cutting-edge seats incorporate polyurethane 3D-printed central sections for both the seat and backrest cushions, allowing users to tailor the firmness to their preference, with options for hard, medium, and soft levels.

Drawing inspiration from the world of motorsport, where individualized, driver-specific seat fitting is commonplace, Porsche aims to provide a personalized and comfortable driving experience. The German automaker plans to manufacture 40 prototype seats utilizing 3D printing technology, set to debut on European race tracks starting May 2020. Customer feedback from these prototypes will play a crucial role in refining the design for the final street-legal models, expected to be available by mid-2021.

Looking ahead, Porsche envisions pushing the boundaries of seat customization beyond firmness and color. The company aims to tailor seats to the specific body contours of individual customers. Recognizing that 3D printing currently stands as the sole technology capable of achieving this unparalleled level of customization, Porsche is at the forefront of integrating cutting-edge technologies to enhance the driving experience and comfort for its discerning clientele.

4. 3D-printed lug nuts that save car wheels from thieves

Image Source : Ford Motor Co.

Ford has devised a solution to thwart car wheel thieves in Europe by introducing a 3D printing program to manufacture custom locking wheel lug nuts with enhanced theft resistance.

Traditionally, vehicles are equipped with a single locking lug nut per wheel, requiring a specific key for removal. However, these can be vulnerable to theft. In response, Ford utilizes 3D printing technology, employing patterns that are more challenging to duplicate.

By leveraging 3D printers, Ford produces locks with unique patterns tailored to each customer. The company generates these patterns based on sound waves derived from a simple sentence, creating an entirely distinctive design akin to fingerprint recognition for heightened security.

The 3D-printing process involves crafting both the lock and the key as a unified stainless steel part. After separating the two components, a minimal polishing process is all that’s needed to ensure functionality.

These innovative locks offer a nearly impenetrable defense against cloning. Featuring unevenly spaced ribs inside the nut and indentations that widen as they go deeper, thieves are unable to create a wax impression without breaking the wax.

The increased security and the ability to provide personalized products underscore the transformative impact of 3D printing on the landscape of car production.

5. 3D printing for automotive brackets

Brackets, though small and seemingly mundane, posed challenges for optimization in the past when engineers were limited by traditional manufacturing techniques. Nowadays, engineers can craft meticulously optimized bracket designs and actualize them using 3D printing technology.

Rolls Royce recently demonstrated the prowess of 3D printing in fabricating brackets. The company proudly displayed a substantial collection of automotive metal components, all optimized through DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) and produced via 3D printing, with many appearing to be brackets.

The primary motivations for employing additive manufacturing (AM) in bracket production are cost savings, accelerated manufacturing timelines, and the ability to fine-tune designs.

In the Rolls Royce example, the team not only achieved functional excellence but also infused creativity by incorporating distinctive features such as the 3D-printed brand name, a QR code, and individualized identification numbers for each specific part.

These innovative additions are only made possible through digital manufacturing, as traditional subtractive methods fall short in terms of both production cost and time efficiency.

6. Ford 3D prints parts for high-performance Mustang Shelby GT500

Ford Motor Company stands as one of the early pioneers in adopting 3D printing, having acquired the third-ever 3D printer crafted around 30 years ago. With the inauguration of its Advanced Manufacturing Center last year, Ford has been progressively incorporating 3D printing into its product development cycle, extending its use to manufacturing applications.

Illustrating this integration is the 2020 Shelby GT500, Ford’s latest vehicle set to hit the market this year. Touted as the most aerodynamically advanced Mustang to date, the high-performance vehicle underwent a meticulous design process that heavily relied on virtual testing. Over 500 cooling and aerodynamic 3D designs were scrutinized through virtual testing to meet the team’s targets for downforce, braking, and cooling.

Once promising designs were identified, Ford’s engineering team turned to 3D printing to bring them to life and conduct prototypes. For example, over 10 designs for front splitter wickers were 3D printed and simultaneously sent out for test evaluations.

Ford's HVAC Lever Arm 3D-printed using Carbon's DLS technology

Ford’s HVAC Lever Arm 3D-printed using Carbon’s DLS technology [Image source: Ford]

Beyond design validation and functional testing, the 2020 Shelby GT500 will feature two structural 3D-printed brake components. Utilizing Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) 3D printing technology and EPX (epoxy) 82 material, these components have successfully met Ford’s rigorous performance standards.

These applications showcase Ford’s commitment to exploring the full potential of additive manufacturing. Harold Sears, Ford’s Technical Leader of AM Technologies, emphasizes the growing role of additive manufacturing in daily business operations, envisioning it becoming the standard rather than the exception.

As Ford continues to push the boundaries of 3D printing capabilities, it’s anticipated that the company will unveil even more impressive innovations in the production of its vehicles.

7. Local Motors & XEV: on the road towards 3D-printed cars?

The bottom half of Olli, the 3D-printed autonomous shuttle

The bottom half of Olli, the 3D-printed autonomous shuttle [Image source : Local Motors]

In the quest to bring fully 3D-printed cars into reality, several companies are actively working towards this goal, and Arizona-based Local Motors is at the forefront of this innovative movement.

Local Motors gained attention in 2014 by introducing what it claimed to be the world’s first 3D-printed electric car, the Strati, showcased at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). Collaborating with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Cincinnati, Inc., the car was printed in just 44 hours using Cincinnati, Inc.’s large-scale 3D printer, with the wheels and hubcaps created through a direct metal 3D printing process.

In subsequent years, Local Motors unveiled Olli, a 3D-printed, autonomous electric shuttle designed for local, low-speed transportation. The company utilized some of the world’s largest 3D printers, including ORNL’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) and Thermwood’s Large Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) machines, to produce Olli’s components.

Local Motors’ success is attributed to its ‘digital vehicle manufacturing model,’ involving co-creation of designs with a global community of experts. This model leverages digital manufacturing technologies like 3D printing, enabling the production and assembly of vehicles in local microfactories. Olli, for instance, can now be 3D-printed in approximately 10 hours after extensive testing of over 2,000 combinations of printing materials and fortifying additives.

Similarly, Italian automaker XEV is making strides in 3D-printed cars, developing a low-speed electric LSEV car using large-format FDM technology and four different grades of polyamide and TPU. The production cost reduction by 70% and the lightweight advantages of 3D printing enable XEV to produce the LSEV in a matter of days. To further support its production, XEV is manufacturing 2,000 large-format extrusion 3D printers for in-house use.

While the realization of fully 3D-printed vehicles on the roads may still be on the horizon, initiatives like Local Motors’ Olli and XEV’s LSEV demonstrate significant progress, offering a glimpse into the exciting future possibilities of 3D-printed automotive technology.

8. Greater customisation with 3D printing

As the demand for personalized products and unique experiences continues to rise, automotive manufacturers are increasingly providing customers with the option to customize their vehicles.

A cost-effective avenue for such customization is through 3D printing. In 2016, Japan’s oldest car manufacturer, Daihatsu, initiated a vehicle customization project for its Copen model. Daihatsu enables customers to design and order custom 3D-printed panels for their front and rear bumpers, offering a selection of over 15 base patterns in 10 different colors. These personalized parts, printed with 3D Printer, a durable and UV-resistant thermoplastic. The efficiency of producing unique, one-off designs swiftly and economically was a pivotal factor in choosing 3D printing over conventional processes.

In Europe, Volkswagen has embraced HP’s Metal Jet technology to introduce custom metal parts such as tailgates, gear-shift knobs, and key rings. The company plans to allow customers to add personalized lettering to these components, considering them as a proof of concept for developing 3D-printed structural parts for its cars in the next two to three years.

An advantage of employing 3D printing for customization lies in automakers’ ability to reduce lead times and production costs, particularly for low-volume parts. This is achieved by eliminating the necessity to create individual tooling aids for each personalized part, a financially impractical prospect with traditional methods.

While automakers need to explore more use cases for customized 3D-printed components beyond simple trim parts, the rapid advancement of technology suggests that the possibilities for car customization through 3D printing will significantly expand in the coming years.

9. Chasing victory: 3D printing for motorsports

Volkswagen Motorsport’s I.D. R Pikes Peak racing car is designed using over 2000 3D-printed parts for testing
[Image source: Volkswagen]

In the competitive realm of Formula One racing, the performance of a race car often dictates the thin line between victory and defeat. Yet, engineering a successful race car poses significant challenges, chiefly due to the high costs involved and the demanding rapid development cycle.

Crucial to the race car development process is wind tunnel testing, where automakers assess and refine the aerodynamic properties of their vehicles. During this phase, a model of the car is positioned on a treadmill to simulate its performance in a racing environment.

Currently, 3D printing is becoming increasingly prevalent in motorsports, particularly for creating parts to be tested on these replica race cars. For instance, the Swiss Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team reportedly utilized a 60% scale model of a Formula 1 race car, incorporating many components 3D printed with SLS and SLA technologies. This approach allows engineers at Sauber to rapidly produce parts such as front wings, brake ducts, suspension components, and engine covers with greater design flexibility than traditional manufacturing methods would permit.

Volkswagen Motorsport also embraced 3D printing in the development of its electric I.D. R Pikes Peak race car. Faced with an ambitious eight-month timeline, the Volkswagen team leveraged 3D printing to accelerate the process and meet stringent development deadlines. Approximately 2,000 individual parts for the wind tunnel model were 3D printed, reducing production time from weeks, as seen with CNC machining or molding, to just a few days.

The flexibility and speed offered by 3D printing played a pivotal role in Volkswagen Motorsport successfully launching the I.D. R Pikes Peak on schedule. The results were evident as the I.D. R Pikes Peak race car, breaking records, triumphed in the Pikes Peak hill climb racing event last year.

With a proven track record in reducing development times, 3D printing is now making significant inroads into end-part applications, offering racing teams tangible performance advantages in the highly competitive world of motorsports.

10. The Honda NX650 Trail Bike is constructed using 3D printing technology.

Motor Trail Honda NX650 Dibangun dengan 3D Printing

Source : Kompas.com

In the ever-evolving realm of motorcycle modification, the fusion of engineering and technology takes center stage. Traditionally, modification workshops rely on welding, forging, or casting to create and customize components for motorcycles. However, a new and innovative approach has emerged, showcasing the power of 3D printing technology. This cutting-edge method has been harnessed by Paul Brauchart and Pilipp Rabl of Vagabund Moto, an Austrian modification workshop.

As reported by BikeExif.com, Vagabund Moto has embraced 3D printing technology to produce precision components for their trail bike project based on the Honda NX650. Unlike conventional methods, 3D printing allows for the creation of intricate pieces with a high degree of accuracy. The motivation behind Vagabund Moto’s choice of 3D printing lies in their desire to craft a trail bike that not only boasts a minimalist aesthetic but is also fully functional for conquering off-road terrains.

Nylon PA12, renowned for its exceptional durability in the realm of 3D printing materials, was the material of choice for Vagabund Moto. The 3D-printed components, which include the fuel tank, tail section, and air filter cover, underscore the workshop’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional motorcycle customization.

While the performance modifications may not be extensive, Vagabund Moto enhances the trail bike’s exhaust system by introducing a robust stainless steel construction. The 2 into 1 design features a modified Akrapovic muffler, adding a touch of performance flair to the project. It’s noteworthy that not all components are created using 3D printing; some are sourced from other motorcycles, such as the front fender taken from a Husqvarna TC85.

Vagabund Moto’s successful execution of the trail bike project stands as a testament to the practicality and viability of integrating 3D printing into the automotive industry. The trail bike not only demonstrates the workshop’s engineering prowess but also maintains a visually striking and minimalist appearance, showcasing the harmonious blend of technology and artistry in the world of motorcycle modification.