Rapid production of concept cars
Additive manufacturing processes, such as stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), are replacing traditional modeling methods because of their ease and capability of generating concept cars. From one-off custom pieces to the entire cabin, additive manufacturing allows for creative post-processing, including painting and priming, to create an accurate prototype. Any alteration to design can be made quickly via their CAD files.
SLA has been around for decades and is still widely used today. The third printer of its kind, the SLA 3, was purchased by Ford Motor Company as early as 1986. The investment in 3D printing saved the automaker billions of dollars when it replaced the traditional method of manufacturing prototypes and parts. Ford was also able to develop new models rapidly because of the reduced lead times. Some early adopters used one-off printed prototypes for wind-tunnel testing.
Versatile engineering plastics like ABS, PC-ABS and Ultem are used as feedstocks in FDM. FDM reduces product weight and cost without sacrificing performance and aesthetics. Where electron beam melting (EBM) is involved, the metal powders used include titanium, cobalt chrome and stainless steel.
Large 3D printing processes such as BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) and the even larger WHAM (Wide and High Additive Manufacturing) have the capacity to print an entire car. Indeed, BAAM has been used to print automobiles and even a house. End-use parts, from car bumpers to custom spoilers, pumps, valves and heat-resistant emission systems, can now be fabricated using selective laser melting (SLM) and selective laser sintering (SLS).
On-demand printing of spare car parts
Car manufacturers are obliged by law to keep spare parts in stock for repairs for a certain period of time. On-demand printing reduces this need for storing replacement parts for compliance due to its accelerated lead time. This, in turn, reduces storage and inventory maintenance costs.
Additive manufacturing is capable of producing complex automotive components otherwise produced by casting, injection molding or CNC machining. Traditional methods require the welding of many parts while AM reduces this time-consuming process by producing parts in single or two-part units. AM allows for complex geometries in engines to be produced this way, thus, reducing the number of engine parts.
AM systems that are capable of fabricating larger components are generating increased interest in 3D-printed automotive parts. For examples, SLS systems using metal powders can produce body panels and doors. The same system using thermoplastic polymers can produce dashboards and seat frames. SLM and PolyJet technology can produce tires and hubcaps.
Quality and strength of 3D-printed parts for supercars
3D printing uses high-resistant, low-weight materials that enhance the performance and quality of parts for even the most demanding motorsports. Due to AM’s capability to fabricate custom parts without limits, supercar manufacturers are taking advantage of its processes to constantly improve aerodynamic designs and strength in their Formula One race cars. Any slight alteration makes a huge difference to how the race is won in this highly competitive sport. Damage to cars is common during high-speed racing, sometimes due to collision or debris on the tracks. Race crews demand on-the-spot repairs and may even resort to 3D printing in pit garages to stay ahead.
McLaren’s F1 team makes use of additive manufacturing processes, such as FDM and PolyJet, to produce parts for its McLaren MCL 32 racer at their headquarters. It only takes hours instead of weeks to refine designs. With AM, the team is able to increase the stiffness of wheel suspension parts by 20 percent while reducing their front and rear weights by 22 percent and 35 percent respectively. Using carbon fiber and titanium in the 3D printing of parts for their student formula racers, the car weighs more than 73 percent less than their steel counterpart.
The future of 3D printing cars
Blade, the world’s first 3D-printed supercar, features a chassis consisting of 3D-printed parts that take only minutes to assemble and that produces a lighter, safer and greener car. In 2014, the Strati and the Urbee competed to become the world’s first 3D-printed car.
The two-seater Urbee, a hybrid car prototype, had its bodywork and windows 3D-printed. Its second remake, Urbee-2, was promoted as the “world’s greenest car” by its developers. In 2015, they demonstrated this with a two-day cross-country trip with two persons and a dog on board. It set a record of just 10 gallons of biofuel consumed.
Strati, a hybrid car prototype, first appeared in the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois, when it was printed at the show in just 44 hours. Its designers at Local Motors have been producing innovative products and cars since 2008. Embracing BAAM’s technology, they went further by designing and producing Strati out of 3D printing (except its mechanical components), choosing an infusion of ABS polymer and carbon fiber as the build material. The finishing process took another three days. Local Motors looks forward to a future where bespoke vehicles may be ordered online and produced efficiently in small factories.
As more advanced AM processes are developed, automakers will become more innovative as they seek to take advantage of new technology. In particular, there is a growing interest in personalized cars that is yet to be met. Consulting with a 3D printing specialist about current AM processes will help automakers stay ahead in the industry.