Future of Automotive Industry: 3D Printing

Increasing R&D activities in 3D printing, joint ventures of leading manufacturers, and ease in development of prototypes are responsible for growth in the automotive industry.

3D printing has transformed the world radically over the past decade with the way things are designed and manufactured. It has enabled manufacturers to build light-weight complex structures at lower costs. Automotive industry has benefited from the emergence of 3D printing technologies with its application extending from rapid prototyping to manufacturing final parts. In addition, it is a vital factor in supply chain and allows rapid innovation in products, thereby saving a lot of time and money. With endless possibilities, from manufacturing spare parts for developing new concepts from scratch, 3D printing is revolutionizing the automotive industry. In its recent report on automotive 3D printing market, Allied Market Research stated that the market is expected to register a CAGR of 21.8% from 2016 to 2022. 3D printed cars would become a reality soon as prominent market players focus to incorporate technologies to drive innovation and reduce manufacturing lead time.

Researchers from China develops a novel metal 3D printing technology:

It is significant to develop novel techniques in 3D printing that uses materials cheaper than the material used in most of the conventional techniques. Researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China developed a novel method of 3d printing that would eliminate issues arising during manufacturing process. Zhang Haiou, leader of the research team at the university is working on this method over the past decade. The method, known as ‘intelligent micro casting and forging,’ integrates aspects of forging technology and traditional metal casting with 3D printing to improve strength, stability, and ductility of parts. 

Zhang said, “In the past, conventional 3D printing has been fatally flawed in the following areas. First, without forging, metal parts have a serious chance of wearing. Second, the performance of 3D printed parts has not been high. A third problem is the presence of pores and unfused portions and the fourth is that using a laser or electron beam as a heat source is very costly.” He added that common problems such as cracking, porosity, and crumbling or dropping of fused materials arising due to rapid heating and cooling are eliminated with this method. Parts of China’s stealth jet fighter planes are manufactured using this method. The technology can also be used in automotive industry to make thin-walled parts. According to the research team, parts created using this technology are more reliable and have a longer lifespan, which can make significant impact in the automotive industry. 

Stratasys joins forces with TPM3D:

Companies are adopting strategies, such as partnerships, agreements, joint ventures, and others to lessen production time, increase overall efficiency, and reduce costs. Automotive industry is greatly benefited with a comprehensive portfolio of companies involved in joint venture. Stratasys Shanghai will be expanding its portfolio of 3D printing solutions and services in China with investments in TPM3D. Stratasys Shanghai is a subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd. and TPM3D is its local joint venture company. Selective Laser Sintering manufacturing system of TPM3D will help Stratasys to fulfill the demands of Chinese clients and improve quality of its 3D printed parts. This system is a complimentary platform for PolyJet and FDM technologies of Stratasys. According to company’s press release, TPM3D SLS 3D printer will help Stratasys expand its 3D printing solutions portfolio throughout the Greater China region. 

Mr. Omer Krieger, General Manager of Stratasys Asia Pacific, said, “The joint venture marks an important milestone for Stratasys. By combining our global vision and local expertise, we are confident that we will meet the unprecedented market demand for high-volume production.” He added that their goal is to meet the unique demands of different industries, such as automotive, aerospace, and others. In addition, their aim is to fulfill customer needs for becoming a truly customer-oriented 3D printing solutions provider. 

Benefits of embracing 3D printing:

3D printing market growth has offered opportunities for innovation and provides a competitive advantage. So, the future of automotive industry largely depends on it. Following are the ways in which automotive industry will be transformed:
  • Faster production
It enables continuous production of parts and eliminates losses taking place during conventional manufacturing process. In addition, if manufacturers need to produce a traditional part that is not included in mass production process, they can print it easily by changing settings on printer.
  • More flexibility
Manufacturers can introduce customized features in design to offer variety of options to customers. Fancier geometries, lightweight lattice structures, and parts made up of various materials are some of the features can be included in the design at any point of time as need arises.
  • Achieves highest level of predictability 
Predictability implies that delivering maximum in less time. It is important for manufacturers to achieve highest level of predictability as possible. The cost of end product is easier to adjust if there are no risks involved in production process. With the help of CAD software, changes can be made at any point of time and parts can be manufactured using 3D printing techniques. Production delivery deadlines can be met even if unpredictable changes occur. 
  • Use of environment friendly material
Manufacturers are using eco-friendly materials, which has lower carbon components for manufacturing 3D printed parts. Furthermore, fabrication process needs very low amount of electricity as compared to the traditional process. 

Nanotechnology in automotive applications:

Nanotechnology in 3D printed cars will make a significant difference in the future. Researchers at Virginia Tech are working on application of nanotechnology in 3D printing. Xiaoyu “Rayne” Zheng and team have published their current findings on ‘Multiscale Metallic Metamaterials’ in journal, Nature Materials. Researchers have explored the issues regarding scalability limitations and steps they are taking to overcome those limitations. They have also demonstrated how metamaterials having 3D features and seven orders of magnitude would help in overcoming scalability limitations. Researchers are creating metamaterials, which are able to achieve tensile elasticity greater than 20 percent. 

“Creation of these materials is enabled by a high-resolution, large-area additive manufacturing technique with scalability not achievable by two-photon polymerization or traditional stereolithography,” said the research team in their paper. “With overall part sizes approaching tens of centimeters, these unique nanostructured metamaterials might find use in a broad array of applications.” Researchers are able to optimize various properties such as mechanical strength, energy, and optical by moving from nano-level to larger sizes and an increase in tensile elasticity of 400% is achieved. Researchers are optimistic that these materials will be helpful in automotive applications by implementation of multiple levels of 3D lattices. 

Automotive companies are using 3D printing technology to develop prototypes and production tools of complex models. Although there is a lot of scope for development in 3D printing technology, increasing adoption in automotive industry will transform the industry by providing innovation opportunities. 

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