3D Printed Car Parts 101

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The growing interest in 3D printing is nothing new. This revolutionary technology has been around for decades. And it has made a significant impact in a variety of industries, specifically in the automotive industry. Rapid prototyping is one of the biggest advantages of additive manufacturing. It has allowed car manufacturers, for example, to design and produce prototypes quickly and at a lower cost, enabling them to check the form and fit prior to the mass production of car parts. But what about actual car parts? Or even a whole car? How else can 3D printing be used in this industry?

Core Applications of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

3D printing is a game-changer in the automotive industry. It will enable manufacturers to optimize production while meeting constantly changing customer demands.

  • Design and Concept of Communication

New design concepts are typically shared with colleagues using CAD software. But just looking at a drawing of a model on a screen makes it difficult for designers and engineers to pinpoint possible problems in the design. With a highly detailed 3D printed scale model, demonstrating the concept and aerodynamic testing of the design is possible.

  • Prototyping Validation

We’ve already touched upon the topic of rapid prototyping. For those who are not familiar with the concept, prototyping is part of any manufacturing process. It allows manufacturers to validate a design before going into production. However, this can get very expensive, often taking a lot of time and money. With 3D printing, creating and testing a prototype is much quicker and more affordable. For car manufacturers, this can mean a small car part or a highly detailed full-scale model.

  • Preproduction Sampling and Tooling

Car manufacturers are not solely focused on the production of car parts. They also design and manufacture assembly tools. Similar to car parts, designing and testing tools can be expensive. Additive manufacturing greatly reduces tooling costs. In addition, this technology allows car manufacturers to provide their workers with personalized, ergonomic tools which increases productivity.

  • Production of Customized Parts

The production of customized parts can be expensive. With 3D printing, car companies can now cater to specific market needs at a considerably lower cost. For example, race car drivers can request for specially-designed seats. Car companies can create components that will make a car lighter.

Additive manufacturing also allows the production of high-priced parts that are in low demand. Car enthusiasts, for example, often are in the market for spare parts that may no longer be in production. Manufacturers can offer these spare parts without the added operational costs (i.e. inventory costs).

Advantages of 3D Printing

  • Shorter Design Cycles

As we’ve already mentioned, rapid prototyping allows manufacturers to quickly produce prototypes for testing. With traditional manufacturing, producing a prototype can take months. Getting a product to market can take as long as a year. But with 3D printing, producing a prototype can take days which allows designers to test and perform multiple iterations prior to production in a shorter period of time.

  • Design Flexibility

3D printing enables car manufacturers to be more flexible in their designs. Not only can they create complex designs, but they can also easily test various iterations of their designs in a shorter amount of time and at a lower cost. For example, GM creates numerous test models for approximately 20,000 of its functional components.

  • Decreased Costs

This has been mentioned several times already. But it cannot be emphasized enough. 3D printing can lower the production costs of prototypes, tools, and customized parts. It can also help reduce inventory costs and other related expenses such as shipping.

  • Inventory Reduction

Speaking of inventory, 3D printing allows car manufacturers to stop stocking high-priced parts that have low demand. Typically, these car parts are stored in a remote location which already incurs operational costs. Shipping these parts to a customer will take time and cost money. With 3D printing on demand, manufacturers can lower their inventory costs and just print parts on demand.

  • Competitive Advantage

3D printing drives innovation. It allows manufacturers to respond quickly to what the market wants and needs. The time spent on research and product development is shorter which means they can put the product to market quickly, ahead of their competitors.

3D printing also allows car companies to manufacture their parts and tools onsite. Not only does this streamline their supply chain, but it also prevents information leaks on new designs and copyright infringements.

Last but not the least, additive manufacturing can help companies provide an enhanced customer experience. It allows them to customize parts and components according to a specific customer’s wants and needs. For example, they can offer customized products such as front bumpers in different base patterns and colors.

Examples

Below are real-life examples of 3D printing in the automotive industry.

  • Ford and the Mustang Shelby GT500

Ford’s engineering team utilized 3D printing to create and test prototypes of aerodynamic designs; some of which they were able to evaluate simultaneously. This led them to build the 2020 Shelby GT500 which is stated to be the most aerodynamically advanced Mustang in history.

  • Volkswagen Autoeuropa

In 2014, the Volkswagen Autoeuropa factory in Portugal started creating tooling equipment using 3D printing technology. This allowed them to shorten lead times from weeks to just days as well as reduce production costs by 90%. One example is the liftgate badge. With traditional manufacturing, manufacturing this tool can take up to 35 days and cost €400. With 3D printing, they can produce the tool within 4 days for only €10.

  • Local Motors

This company in Arizona created Olli in 2016. Olli is a 3D-printed autonomous electric shuttle that can be used in urban centers, universities, and hospitals as a form of low-speed transportation. The company can manufacture this minibus within 10 hours.

The Future of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

The immediate results of adopting the use of 3D printing in the automotive industry are a streamlined supply chain, lower operational costs, and a better customer experience. But that’s just the beginning. 3D printing drives innovation which means creating new designs for components, car parts, and even entire cars.

While a hover car is not yet in the works, industry experts agree that the mass production of general car parts is not far off in our future. And within 10 to 20 years, we can expect these companies to start the mass production of entire cars using 3D printing technology.

Final Thoughts

There’s no question that 3D printing has transformed the way car manufacturers do business. It has also allowed the entry of small to medium-sized businesses into the market. This technology is still evolving, with new materials being discovered every day.

What new applications can we expect to have in the automotive industry? That’s up to our imaginations.

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About the author

Louisa is a content marketing professional and editor creating her successful career past 2 years at D3D Printing. She is a goal-oriented, creative individual with a unique voice in writing, editing, and optimizing content for various projects. She’s a devoted mom and an excellent piano player.

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