In today’s fast moving economy, the automobile industry is undergoing a transformative period. Evidently, the old ways of manufacturing equipment are no longer feasible for continued success especially under the pressure of international competition. New designs, new processes and new concepts need to be refurbished for power efficiency, performance and style. In the face of these challenges and opportunities emerged rapid prototyping and 3d printing technologies that have taken the automotive industry by storm.
The Three Stages
As the technology started evolving, automobile manufacturers started to take keen interest in the endless possibilities of rapid prototyping. Being considered as the next trillion dollar industry, rapid prototyping is being used for printing out car accessories and parts, as well as building new concepts from scratch. In the past, only certain car parts could be reproduced using rapid prototyping. Today, an entire vehicle can be 3d printed in less than 48 hours. The automobile manufacturers all over the world are dreaming big, as the future of building cars is about to change drastically. Based on the type of rapid prototyping technologies used, there are four main stages of automotive 3d printing-
• Basic Rapid Prototyping
After many years of using rapid prototyping and 3d printing technology, some automobile manufacturers decided to move beyond the initial stage. This stage of adoption, also called the basic stage, produces a comparatively low volume of prototyped parts; only used for special cases. This aids in the speedy development of products, which is also the limit for this rudimentary stage.
• Distributed Idea Generation
Thinking beyond what was initially possible, some manufacturers decided to take things a step further. They began to purchase their own 3d printing equipment in the last few years. Usage of larger fleets of printers, multiple rapid prototyping technologies, various types of engineering and product designing teams characterizes this stage of adoption. In order to boost the creativity of engineers, lower cost printing equipment has been utilized singly to enable the generation of physical ideas.
• Advanced Prototyping and Exploration
Some of the leading manufacturers reside in the topmost tier of technology adoption. Usually less structured than the above two phases, the nature of this tier is based more on innovation than anything else. The production of hand tools, jigs and other fixtures increase efficiency in the automobile assembly system. Here, rapid prototyping services are directly used to create or aid in the creation of car parts. These are used in the test phase or assembly. Concept cars, test engines, etc. are created in this method. The use of some specified 3d printed jigs, tools or other fixtures are categorized as advanced use of this technology.
• Rapid Tooling and Manufacturing
In order to be truly advanced, such tools should necessarily be used in routine production of commercialized vehicles, not concept cars. Therefore, performance based motorsports and racing car manufacturers are gravitating towards the most advanced form of 3d printing technology adaptation. Creating true end user parts in these high performing automobiles is what differentiates this industry from others, even though the production volume is low. BMW, Porsche, Audi and Lamborghini are just a handful of the top auto makers that are employing this method to make some of their cars lighter, faster and higher performing.
How Rapid Prototyping Helps
Futuristic rapid prototyping in the automobile manufacturing industry lies in building the end user parts in high performance thermoplastic, metal and advanced materials. The following factors make the rapid prototyping in the automotive industry a very lucrative prospect-
• Faster Production
Additive manufacturing can prevent losses taking place by enabling continuous production in the factories for individual parts. Speed too, is an important factor to consider due to the speed of the process being able to increase the continuity of design and development. When manufacturers feel the need of a more traditional vehicle part which is not included in mass production, it can be printed out easily by adjusting a few minor settings in the printing equipment.
• Flexible Design
There are endless possibilities in tweaking a car design, however the customer wants. When it comes to design flexibility, 3d printing offers a vast arena. Some customized and sought after features such as fancy geometry, lightweight lattice structure; hollow structures with embedded electrical wiring, parts made out of more than two materials etc. can be constructed. The automotive dealership can offer a huge variety to an enthusiastic client base.
• Reduced Risk
Better capacity plans, forecasting of special requirements with zero interruptions, accuracy in delivery dates, etc. can be achieved with the use of rapid prototyping services. The highest grade predictability is possible through this technology as it saves a lot of time. Price too becomes easier to adjust with a risk free production process. Any and every part of the vehicle can be changed in the CAD software. Engineers also receive delivery dates in real time through online quote engines.
• Elimination of Suppliers
Manufacturers will not require a large capital to satisfy customer requirements as there remains no need for new tools or final parts. In 3d technique, no printed product is unnecessary, hence there is less wastage of material. The lightweight components result in a significantly lower cost of handling.
• Protects the Environment
Now that the automotive companies are switching to 3d printing, recyclable materials with low fuel emission rate can be used for building vehicles. 3d printed vehicles have the lowest carbon print than those built in any other media. Compared to the traditional process of fabrication, 3d cars require only a small amount of electricity.
• End User Parts and Assembly Aids
With the advent of 3d printing, manufacturers can now build durable prototypes, concept models, low volume end user parts and tooling materials. Automotive designers and engineers can now test the parts more thoroughly and work more iteratively to bring their designs to life.
More than thirty years ago, the fans of radio controlled cars were quick to adopt this technology. Now that 3d printing has gained traction in the industrial level, more and more manufacturers are using it to create prototypes and production tools of far more complex models.
Instead of producing multiple designs, designers can now tweak their concept models on the computer and print it out only when it is perfect. With the rapid advancement of technology, the day is not far when 3d printing will be accessible to more industries in future.
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