How 3D printing is revolutionizing the automotive industry

The automobile industry is continuously pushing the envelope in technology, engineering, safety, and aesthetics. Top manufacturers are focusing on efficient methods in which to build their vehicles while still maintaining the integrity of their brand. In the past, this meant that there needed to be a team of designers and engineers, to model engineers, on staff to model a concept, traditionally in clay, cast the prototype, and repeat the process if the innovation was not to par. This is not the case with modern auto manufacturing practices. Due to the emergence of the industrial 3D printer, companies have been gradually shifting to using 3D Printing machines to fabricate low volume parts.

Koenigsegg

One company which utilizes 3D printed components is Koenigsegg. The company, which specializes in high performance sports cars, decided to use 3D printing techniques to optimize the turbochargers in their then flagship One:1 hypercar. Speaking at the Geneva Car Convention, CEO Christian Von Koeingsegg stated that “I guess with a lot of trial and errors we could have made that work but with the modern 3D printing methods you can actually print at a relatively good price for low volume in stainless steel.” As the interview continued, Christian noted that due to 3D Printing there is very little post processing to produce a completed product.

Is CAD design to 3D Printing safe for Vehicles?

When considering the design and printing process, one may wonder if direct printing from CAD based programs is safe for the safety conscious vehicle market. The fact is that CAD has been a part of the design process for decades. Where the change occurs is in the implementation of the design. Instead of having to take the design from the program, interpret the design, sculpt and cast the model, and then assemble the pieces, designers can take the model, test the structure and the integrity of that model within the program, see the results of the product through 3D renders, and then replicate the part using 3D Printing.

By removing the back and forth of the designer to the fabrication process, the margin of error is greatly reduced. Consider that the precision of some parts must be within a fraction of a mm in order for the part to function properly. Such minute details are taken into account should a model need to be cast, sanded, and finished. The 3D metal printing capabilities of modern 3D printers allows for precision printing of multi-layered, complex 3D CAD Designs, thus reducing the probability for human error.

Broadening the Field

While in the past, manufacturers have primarily had in-house engineers and designers to fabricate their parts, the option to use digital transference of files allows for remote one-on-one contracts between developers and vehicle manufacturers. Various 3D printed products for the custom and standard automobiles market can be designed in CAD, printed to a desired scale on a Desktop 3D Printer for approval, and then have the final file sent to the manufacturer. While it is unlikely that the company will go directly from the 3D artist to print, it is probable that outsourcing design and customization may occur, such as on wheels and engine components.

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Image created by Mikelyden and obtained through Resource and Stock images on Deviant Art.

Beyond the manufacturing floor

Modern and classic cars, and any mechanical device for that matter, tends to have parts which get corroded, chipped, cracked, and damaged over time. And while you could go and hunt down the part that you need, the ability to quickly and affordably print such parts using 3D design software and a metal 3D Printer makes replacement substantially easier, and often cheaper. For example, if you have a small engine for a go-cart, golf-cart, or riding lawnmower and your fuel drain top gets overheated and melts/warps, you will need to contact the manufacturer and order a new part (if it is even available). However, if you understand 3D CAD design, or if you can provide the relevant information (such as dimensions) to someone who does, the part can be modeled and printed, generally at a fraction of the cost of the manufacturer’s offered replacement part.

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Image Picture as well as CAD render of Fuel Drain provided by Douglas Siclari of Siclari Studio of Art and Design

Software in 3D Printing

Many CAD programs, such as AutoDesk Inventor or SolidWorks, allow you to directly 3D Print your model from the program. Since both programs provide various analysis techniques, including stress and integrity analytics, and material options, a part can go from concept, to testing, to fine tuning, to completion all from 1 program and a 3D Printer.

3D Scanning for Modern Vehicles

While the fabrication of new parts and customizations is beneficial to the automotive industry, so is 3D Scanning. The ability to take defective part or prototype and use a 3D Scanner to capture the exact details and tweak and/or print that part, makes 3D printing and Scanning in the automotive industry a priceless commodity. And while, currently, there are limitations as to the complexity of the models, one can expect that the technology, engineering, software, and capabilities of industrial 3D Printers and 3D Scanners will expand as the popularity of this methodology increases.

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