The motoring industry is a constant source of innovation, with regular developments across technology, design and safety. 3D printing is one of the latest trends set to make a significant impact and the effects could be ground-breaking.
3D printing is a technique where a physical object is created from a digital model by printing thin layers of material on top of one another.
Here are some of the ways it could make the motoring industry more efficient, safe and cost-effective:
While 3D printing is not yet efficient enough for high-volume manufacturing, the ability to develop prototype parts more quickly, create custom parts for drivers, or make crucial parts for smaller run performance vehicles, means it could start allowing some models to get to market quicker than standard vehicle manufacturing procedures.
Designing a complicated new part and then waiting months for prototype tooling to be produced could also become a thing of the past, as 3D printing is starting to create quicker, more cost-effective solutions for engineers too.
One of the most important factors to address in the automotive industry is safety, and there are elements to 3D printing that have the potential to improve this. As the 3D components are designed using computer programmes, the consistency of production is greater than working with sheet metals, which could help to reduce future vehicle complications.
Bodywork can be more easily replicated, so an owner could potentially purchase a new shell more quickly with no discernible difference to the original.
Simplifying vehicle manufacturing
Many manufacturers are using 3D printing to create single, large body parts. The LM3D Swim is a prime example of this, as the car is created using less than 50 individual parts, compared to a traditional vehicle which could have over 30,000 parts.
The relative simplicity in design and fewer parts could mean issues will be more easily rectifiable, both in terms of parts manufacture and fitting. The simplicity of generating replacements and additions is already being tested by Ford, as it continues to investigate the effectiveness of creating large parts and components using 3D printing.
Millions of components are sitting in stock warehouses around the world, waiting to be supplied as a spare part. By printing new parts, automakers can reduce logistics and warehouse storage costs and produce complex components at low volumes. Imagine the savings by storing parts such as covers, spring caps, wiring ducts and mountings, digitally instead of physically and building them on-demand.
This potential is already recognised in America as Daimler Trucks, the world’s largest truck manufacturer, has been using 3D printing in its spare part production supply.
3D printing for racing advantage
Formula 1 teams originally bought into 3D prototyping to reduce development times. More iterations, more quickly don’t always reduce costs for race teams, but if it translates to saving even a millisecond on the track, the investment is justifiable to them.
The Lotus F1 team uses plastic 3D printing processes for concept development, functional prototypes and wind-tunnel models. The time saved is fundamental to the development timeline and 3D printers have allowed its teams to downsize Ford’s machine shops too.