The future of automotive 3D printing
As with automotive, the 3D industry has come a long way since the 80s. Once seen as purely for hobbyists, the dawn of new printing technologies such as LCD 3D printing has now opened the doors for a number of industries to progress their production capabilities.
In fact, 3D printing technology has recently given rise to spectacular achievements in the automotive industry in-particular. The two industries have combined to result in significant progress for the manufacturing and aftersales markets.
Although it is now practically possible to print an entire car via 3D, the real benefits of 3D printing within the automotive sector are most prominent when it comes to rapid prototyping. Compared to other manufacturing processes new parts can be printed and tested quickly, enabling manufacturers to get to market at speed.
However, the success of 3D is not limited to prototyping alone. Many manufacturers within the automotive industry are turning to 3D to produce a variety of final car parts; gearshift knobs, airbag components, pistons and seat parts are just a selection of parts regularly being 3D printed by top automotive brand manufacturers around the world.
Challenging geometries and cost implications of traditional manufacturing processes that have previously stood in the way of automotive parts designers, are now being overcome through 3D. Automotive parts can now be conceived with no limits or restrictions, tested repeatedly, and amended again and again at ease, until designers are completely happy with them.
This explains why the automotive sector has taken a liking to 3D printing and as a result, been keen to push the boundaries of what can be achieved through the technology. Designers and engineers have become increasingly open to allowing 3D printing to assist implementing new ideas within the manufacturing processes and enable automotive innovation.
In addition, the development of new 3D printing materials has been key to the advances in the automotive industry. Durable, flexible and heat resistant resins have all been critical to the continued development of automotive parts, lightweight materials have been used in products to increase speed and have enabled advances in motorsports vehicles and sportscars readily available on the market today.
3D printing has been key to developing new parts for new vehicles to drive innovation for the automotive sector, but has also been fundamental in ensuring old vehicles can continue to be driven. Older parts that are no longer available, can now be easily manufactured via 3D. It is even possible to replicate old parts without cad files, via the reverse engineering process, where products are scanned and created to be as good, if not better than before.
Older, obsolete parts can now easily be manufactured through additive. The Bodyshop Mag recently reported on the Jaguar XK8 being saved from write off thanks to 3D.
LCD 3D printing technology was invented by UK based 3D printer manufacturers Photocentric and enables parts to be developed at speed. Entire layers are printed at once, rather than a single point of contact as with other technologies. This has emphatically sped up the 3D manufacturing process and combined with software advances it has eradicated another previous issue found with 3D printing.
Their largest printer, the LC Magna is compatible with 4D software to enable the addition of texturing and finishes previously unachievable with primitive 3D technologies. These additions will enable manufacturers to choose from thousands of design elements, to create the perfect finish on the part and move away from prints that expose the layering that occurs with 3D.
Previous concerns of 3D printing are gradually being overcome. The major automotive manufacturers are now all using 3D in one form or another, and many repair centres are starting to utilise the technology also.
Chris Broad, bodyshop general manager at Eastbourne Coach Finishers Limited, commented: “3D printing is a field that we’re actively involved in. I believe that every large-scale accident repair centre/group will soon have a 3D printer downloading files from TPS or Ford Parts, for example, printing parts on site rather than waiting days for delivery.”
He added: “TPS are printing parts now, so I imagine bodyshops will soon start to pay for a printing licence. That is until bodyshops invest in their own printers.”
The other benefit of 3D printing is that less plastic will be wasted and end up in skips. The process allows only the required amount of material to be needed. The beauty of the advances in additive manufacturing enables manufacturers to print one offs, or to produce mass batches.