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Revving the Engine with AM

November 2, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:46

Note: Ray Huff, associate engineer at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

The automotive industry has been a major player in the use of AM over the past 30 years, beginning with rapid product development and prototyping. In the past few years, we have begun to glimpse the possibilities of AM as a tool for end-use production parts in automotive. Among the parts we have seen are custom trim pieces, HVAC components, parking brake brackets, and lightweight convertible top mounts. We’ve also seen power window guide rails, high-performance brake calipers, and even fully printed car bodies.

Many of these parts are made in low- or medium-production quantities. BMW touted its polymer guide rail production speeds of 100 parts per day using HP Jet Fusion technology. The guide rail, shown above, is installed in the i8 Roadster sports car, a limited-production vehicle. The same can be said for Bugatti’s Chiron brake caliper and the Olli self-driving shuttle, which are both low-volume products. Perfecting these production methods could certainly translate to higher-volume models in the future, and the proving of the technology with these use cases builds a strong argument for doing so.

At a recent National Manufacturing Day round-table discussion, Ford chief technology officer Ken Washington clearly stated his hope for AM-driven innovation in the automotive sector. “We’re going to see an adoption of the mindset of designing for additive, which is going to unlock all kinds of new innovations, new ways to bring products to life, and new experiences for customers. You couldn’t do this before because you didn’t have the tools.”

As companies such as Ford, Volkswagon, and others continue to adopt AM for production, we expect to see a new range of parts. Lightweight and topology-optimized frame members, handles, and wheels are on the horizon. As metals and high-temperature polymers are perfected and tested for long-term use, we will see engine blocks, pistons, valves, pumps, pulleys, and other parts made by AM. These parts have been seen in testing, with promising performance gains and weight savings. Only time will tell where the intersection of production cost and speed by AM will meet market demand.