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3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

January 25, 2021

Cars have come a long way since the first modern automobile was created in 1886. Since then, cars have transformed, donned many different colors, and now have more electronic bells and whistles than the computer that sent a man to the moon. In 2021, what more is there to do with the car other than abandoning the need for gas or finding a way to create flying cars?

3D printing is the next step in the progress of automobiles. With 3D printing implemented into the building of cars, vehicles can become lighter, more customized and cheaper to make. 

The First 3D-Printed Car

The first fully 3D-printed car was made in 2014 by Local Motors. The automobile was printed from an ABS carbon-fiber blend called Strati. Since then, companies such as Honda, Ford and Tesla have integrated 3D printed prototypes and production parts into their cars. 3D printing prototypes are used to decrease design time, which saves money over a long time. Faster iteration allows for more testing and a more refined product by the time a manufacturer is ready for mass production.

What is 3D Printing Ideal For In Automobiles?

While 3D printing may not be ideal for entire cars or some of the parts in cars, the prototyping process will be benefited greatly by 3D printing. With 3D printing utilizing the materials it is made from, less is wasted and money is saved. 3D printing is good for fixtures and jigs and other tooling required in the manufacture, assembly and testing of automobiles. Cast and thermoformed parts often require patterns which is often a good fit for 3D printed parts. Additionally, as the cost comes down of production 3D printing, small parts under a couple inches in size are being more widely adopted as end use parts in automobiles, cutting out the need for expensive and time consuming injection mold tooling altogether. The expansion of available thermoplastics and thermoset resins, including Nylon, Polypropylene, ABS, Polycarbonate, Ultem and TPU/TPE rubbers has greatly increased the flexibility and adoption of print technologies in end use parts.

3D printing for mass-production parts will be challenging to make cost effective in production runs of tens or hundreds of thousands of automobiles, but 3D printing will most likely grow over the years in lower-volume production. As a general rule, the fewer cars a manufacturer makes, like the ultra high end companies like Rolls Royce, McLaren, Bugati and Ferrari, the more effective 3D printing is for making production parts. Beyond cost, they are adopting 3D printing for design and quality purposes. These manufacturers have an obsession with form and weight and through the design freedom enabled by 3D printing they can create beautiful and ultra lightweight parts. 

Using Metal

Metal 3D printing is now considered for automotive companies. There have been several full-size 3D printed automobiles made from metal. While it is not something that is completely justifiable or economic at this time, it is something that is being viewed at for the future of automotive manufacturing. Companies that are planning on how to integrate this into their production in the coming decades will be left in the dust as 3D metal costs become more economical.

3D printed vehicles will also be made from materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, titanium and even composites like printed carbon fiber. It’s expected for 3D printing to be integrated into many automobile models more in the next five year to ten years.

Electric Vehicles

There are many electric vehicle startups integrating 3D printing into their manufacturing process for a variety of reasons. First, they are obsessed with green manufacturing and energy efficiency. 3D printing allows for closer and faster supply chains which reduces material waste and the carbon footprint of shipping parts around the globe. Second lightweight parts and low production volumes as they ramp up lends itself to 3D printing technology. This growing industry is incredibly competitive and companies who do not use the latest and greatest technology will quickly get left behind. Third, as new startup companies they do not have production capacity tied up in legacy technologies and supply chains making them free to design and develop components using new technologies like 3D printing. These factors together make 3D printing an essential part of electric vehicle design and manufacturing.

3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

3D printing is something that is being integrated into more industries than just the automotive industry, but it is an industry that has a lot of opportunity for 3D printing. Companies such as RapidMade are paving the way for 3D printing in many new industries. RapidMade has metal 3D printing, rubber 3D printing, High speed stereolithography, Jet Fusion nylon 12 and much more. Additionally they can supplement 3D printed components with traditionally manufactured components like 5 axis machining and thermoforming, as well as handle assembly and design. They even have a full service paint shop capable of UV rated paints in custom pantones and high gloss clear coat. This makes RapidMade an ideal one stop shop who offers a very competitive partnership with many large and successful automotive companies. 

There are many examples as to why 3D printing is beneficial for most manufacturers and can help with reducing costs and increasing productivity. RapidMade works with car manufacturers and OEM distributors across the country. Request a quote to determine how we can assist in boosting productivity and paving the way for 3D printing integration. 

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