The automotive industry is expected to spend an estimated $2.3 billion on 3D printing by the year 2021, according to Plastics Today. The significance of 3D printing to automotive manufacturing is greater than ever before. This is mostly thanks to advancements such as Additive Metal Manufacturing, giving 3D printing more durable material to work with. But how is it working to nestle itself comfortably in that niche? Let’s find out.
Impact of 3D Printing In the Auto Industry, Thus Far
To fully appreciate the course that 3D printing is taking, we need to look back on the things it has achieved so far. Since the end of 2010, 3D printing’s main use in the car manufacturing industry was for crafting prototypes of parts and even entire cars to check how everything fits together. At the time, material limitations and the 3D printing process itself led to the capability to make intricate and often artistic designs of parts, but they were brittle and hence not fit for any serious use.
Fast forward to 2020, 3D printing now boasts such game-changing improvements as Fused Filament Fabrication, which makes use of a single continuous filament in printing, giving it an excellent material strength. With developments such as these, 3D printing now provides more reliable ways to create durable components. Now, it can support the manufacture of automotive parts better than ever before.
Applications and Advantages of 3D Printing
3D printed scale models are still in wide use in the automotive industry today. The only difference now is that they’re also the preferred means to create aerodynamic models, as opposed to the ceramic casts of yesteryear. It’s also got a solid foothold in pre-production, thanks to its low-cost manufacturing of tools and fixtures, ensuring minimal losses once they’re made for real. Finally, it allows for the low-cost production of accessories and peripherals.
The chief advantage that 3D printing gives is the substantial drop in expenses when it comes to pre-production, prototyping, and even the manufacture of parts themselves. The decreased focus in creating working models allows for an increased focus in actual production, making the overall process faster, more efficient and affordable. The tools and implements manufactured using 3D printing are more lightweight and ergonomic as well. With the rate 3D printing tech is going, we can expect a marked decrease in the price of premium vehicles such as SUVs soon.
3D Printing in Auto Manufacturing, Going Forward
3D printing is not a one-size-fits-all piece of wonder tech, but it is cementing its place as a very large and significant cog in that machine. The number of companies adopting 3D printing to craft jigs and fixtures is ever-increasing, according to Stratasys director Ron Clemons. 3D printing is vital to Topographical Optimization, a process that allows manufacturers to determine the maximum strength of a model for the least amount of weight and materials possible. While the technology is still getting there, the recent improvements in 3D printing show great promise in increasing weight efficiency, leading to safer, more durable, and more fuel-economical vehicles.
Though it remains a relatively young technology, 3D printing has been making great strides in several sectors of manufacturing, perhaps nowhere more than in the auto industry. Time will tell if it lives up to the expectations of its proponents, but as we’ve seen from how it cuts costs and helps manufacturers work ever closer to increased efficiency, it’s gotten closer to that goal.
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