How automotive industry use additive manufacturing?
additive manufacturing | automotive industry | manufacturing | 3d printing | technology
Manufacturers in the automotive industry are recognizing more often than ever the approach of additive manufacturing as a standard procedure rather than an optional choice.
Big automotive players are currently moving away from traditional manufacturing methods and are scaling up their mass production of parts. They are achieving this by utilizing additive manufacturing to create large numbers of cost-effective prototypes or spare parts prior production.
Additive manufacturing is not a new technology that can be seen as disruptive for the automotive sector. It is a rapidly growing technology that will take its place into the manufacturing pie while already replaces significant manufacturing orders that 20 years ago would be completed by known traditional methods.
BMW which turned its focus to AM 28 years ago, has now a 15€ million state-of-the-art Additive Manufacturing Center in Munich, Germany with a capability to produce nearly a million components each year manufacturing prototypes and other complex end-user components. In 2020, BMW claim they met the milestone of one million 3D printed parts.
Volkswagen Group are already using 3D printing technologies (SLA, FDM) on a massive scale manufacturing metal finished components and tools and are seeing the benefits of additive manufacturing since 2018 in their own AMC. Another sound example is Ford which back in 1986 they already made an investment to purchase an SLA 3D printer. Since then, Ford have produced millions of parts saving billions of dollars via its Advanced Manufacturing Centre in Detroit where 3D printers assist designers to design their parts more efficiently while considering geometry optimization.
Other big brands such as Porsche have recently adopted this technology and started producing parts (pistons, EV housings etc.). Mercedes-Benz Trucks also initiated a growing activity to manufacture components for specific vehicles through additive manufacturing approach.
There are many examples in the automotive industry and it is only a matter of time this trend to become the primary manufacturing choice compared to traditional manufacturing methods that been used for nearly a century.
The benefits of the additive manufacturing in automotive industry
The benefits related with the additive manufacturing in automotive industry are quite clear and sound. Despite of the initial cost that is associated with this technology as well as the cost of the materials, automotive OEMs have adopted the approach to scale up the production to appreciate some of the benefits below.
1. Preventing supply chain disturbance; As it is known most of the OEMs, use Toyota’s Just-In-Time philosophy. As many manufacturers have 3D printing machines available into their design centres operating on-demand, any potential disruption in the logistics can be prevented and the risk can be mitigated
2. Assisting research and development departments; It is almost imperative that every R&D team would build prototypes of the designed parts to check geometry and functionality, fit-for-purpose or for testing use. Many automotive OEMs 3D print their final designs first or perform many revisions of the design prior moving on to mass production orders.
3. Improve the design process; Improving the design of a part (e.g., air intake) automatically means optimum weight, geometry and performance. Now, fitting just right optimum parts to a vehicle for example, will result in less fuel consumption compared to parts that might have been overengineered.
4. Component’s customization; Some car manufacturers build a very small volume of hypercars due to the level of luxury they apply to those cars. In such occasions, those manufacturers are able to offer unique designs of specific customized parts making every vehicle extraordinary and unique for specific customers who are willing to pay a high price. Again, additive manufacturing technology helps a company to meet the customer’s unique requirements and preferences.
Globally the automotive players are moving towards additive manufacturing in a fast pace, seeing that they can utilize the technology in the most efficient way, reducing not only the manufacturing time but also the long-term costs. The automotive manufacturing network, will eventually observe that can produce, more sophisticated designs and customized pats on time and on a wide range of metals and polymers meeting the most extraordinary customer expectations. It looks inevitable that very soon 3D printing will replace at a global level a big percentage of traditional manufacturing processes giving essential advantages to those who can use this technology against their competitors.
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