Additive manufacturing has long assisted prototyping, but OEMs are now exploring its uses in productionA hot topic for a number of years, it now appears that additive manufacturing (3D printing) technologies are starting to be used more widely by a number of automotive OEMs. But while additive manufacturing has been an integral part of prototype development for a long time, what about the much-mooted transition of this advanced manufacturing technique into mainstream production?
There are, of course, many hurdles to overcome before the world sees a 3D-printed part on a high-volume production car, not least process speed. However, the fact that several OEMs are introducing such parts into low-volume, special or race models, shows there is growing confidence in additive manufacturing as more than just a useful development tool. Virtually unlimited design freedom and zero tooling costs are two of the major advantages of the process, and these are clearly proving too attractive to ignore, for both plastic and metal parts.
BMW, for example, is already using SLS (selective laser sintering) to produce aluminium water pump wheels for powertrains, and is now considering the adoption of CLIP (continuous liquid interface production) technology, whereby parts are ‘grown’ rather than created layer-by-layer. Additive manufacturing is also reshaping the landscape at Lamborghini and Ford, particularly for track cars. FDM (fused deposition modelling) is the technology of choice at Lamborghini, where the plastic parts produced include profiles and air conducts. At Ford, the latest success story is an intake manifold.
Some OEMs are even exploring additive manufacturing for entire builds. Local Motors, for example, has recently produced the world’s first 3D-printed electric car, while Audi says that all of the metallic parts deployed in a recently produced scale model of a Silver Arrow Auto Union Typ C were made using additive manufacturing. The company is one of many with the ultimate goal of applying metal 3D printers in series production.
This review looks at the current projects of various OEMs in their quest for greater integration of additive manufacturing processes, including the potential for mainstream production.