3D printing has been revolutionizing the way companies do business for decades. It has helped push innovations forward in a variety of industries, specifically in the automotive industry. In fact, it has transformed the way car manufacturers are able to meet and overcome the demands they face in all areas of automotive production.
How is 3D printing used in the automotive industry?
3D printing has made a huge impact on the ways that car manufacturers are designing, developing, making, and distributing cars, car parts, and tools.
- Design and Development
It can be difficult to pinpoint problems in a car's design just by looking at CAD models. With 3D printing, car manufacturers are able to produce a physical model and use it to discuss any problems with form and fit that need to be addressed.
- Prototyping validation
Similar to other industries, the manufacturing process followed by car manufacturers includes prototyping which can be very expensive. 3D printing has enabled these companies to produce a full-scale rapid prototype that they can use to validate the product design and performance.
- Tooling preparation and production
Tooling refers to the process of designing and producing assembly tools. Tooling production can be expensive and take time. But with 3D printing, tool production costs can be reduced significantly. In fact, the Volkswagen Autoeuropa factory in Portugal claims to have been able to lower their tooling costs by 90%. BMW, on the other hand, has been able to use 3D printing to increase worker productivity and reduce project time by using 3D printers to create customized, ergonomic hand tools.
- Customized parts production
3D printing has enabled car companies to easily produce customized parts to cater to specific market needs. For example, they can tailor components in a specific vehicle to make it lighter. They can also produce specially-designed seats for race car drivers. Another example is the production of low demand, high-priced parts. Instead of storing this kind of inventory and incurring expenses, some car companies are using 3D printing on-demand to meet this kind of market need. In fact, Porsche is offering this service to car enthusiasts looking for spare parts for their classic cars.
What are the benefits of 3D printing for car manufacturers?
3D printing is a technology that has brought about numerous advantages to a variety of industries, including the automotive industry. Fast, low-cost production, efficiency, flexibility, and competitive advantage are just a few. Let's discuss them one by one, shall we?
- Rapid Prototyping
This is a huge advantage when you're designing a large, expensive product such as a car. As we've mentioned, it can be difficult to evaluate the form, fit, and function just by looking at a CAD model. With 3D printing, they can produce a rapid prototype at a low cost. Moreover, this allows companies to streamline and speed up the manufacturing process.
Due to rapid prototyping, car manufacturers are able to enjoy design flexibility. They can try out various iterations and/or alternatives at a low cost. They can compare different design elements that will allow them to test quality and refine their design. All of this can be done in a shorter amount of time with little additional cost before pushing through mass production. GM, for example, produces various test models of around 20,000 of its functional components.
- Decreasing costs
We've mentioned it time and again, but this benefit deserves emphasis. 3D printing has not only enabled car manufacturers to lower the costs of prototyping, iterations, tool production, and customized parts.
- Inventory reduction
Because car manufacturers can utilize 3D printing on demand, car manufacturers don't need to store parts that have a low demand in the market. Usually, these parts are stored in a remote location which means delivering the part to a customer will require time and money. This, of course, translates to lower operational costs.
- Competitive Advantage
One huge advantage of using 3D printing is that car manufacturers can produce everything they need, from prototypes to customized tools, onsite. This means that they can avoid copyright infringements or information leaks.
3D printing can also enable car manufacturers to respond quickly to market feedback. It shortens the time spent on research and development while driving innovation. Car manufacturers can easily provide customers a personalized experience by creating customized products such as front and rear bumpers in different base patterns and colors.
How will 3D printing affect this industry in the future?
Innovation and 3D printing go hand-in-hand in the automotive industry. Printing prototypes, tools, and customized parts are just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the direct result of these occurrences means that car manufacturers can simplify and shorten their supply chain as well as decrease the number of their suppliers. But that's something happening in the present. 3D printing has an even greater impact on this industry's future - 3D printed cars and the rise of micro-factories.
3D printed cars are not a new idea. It's something that's already in the works. But what are micro-factories? These are small car manufacturers that focus on producing a small series of specialized vehicles instead of mass production, to cater to a small market.
The transformation of the automotive industry through 3D printing is only just beginning. The only limit to its growth is perhaps a car manufacturer's imagination.
Author Bio: Louisa is a content marketing professional and editor creating her successful career past 2 years at D3D Printing. She is a goal-oriented, creative individual with a unique voice in writing, editing, and optimizing content for various projects. She's a devoted mom and an excellent piano player.