Following the footsteps of aerospace industry, automotive manufacturers too have begun adopting additive manufacturing to reduce manufacturing cost and improve performance. The technology has grown from simply prototyping to assisting in concept development through final production. It is possible for automobile manufacturers to develop complex geometries, evaluate design alternatives with different materials as well as improve production efficiencies with additive manufacturing. The application of this technology is essentially in five areas of the automotive development process.
Prototypes for Functional Testing
Traditionally, the use of additive manufacturing, also known as rapid prototyping is primarily during the early design phases of the product development. The prototype is then sent for developing the original part for pre-production requirements. However, in this setup, any change in the product design leads to change of tools required. This adds to the cost and unnecessarily stretched the development time. Thankfully, advancements in additive manufacturing techniques and material availability has enabled developing components like manifolds, cylinder heads and other engine components without needing any special tooling. This has led to significant cost savings for manufacturers. A clear example of an automotive giant Ford, who took four months and $500,000 to develop one single component, reduced the development time to less than four days costing only $3,000 through additive manufacturing.
With technologies like selective laser sintering (SLS), fused deposition modeling (FDM) and PolyJet, it is even possible to develop highly functional prototypes with high precision and form-fit.
Developing Exterior and Interior Body Parts
There is an increasing adoption of additive manufacturing technique to develop exterior parts like bumpers, interior knobs and other trim. These parts can be developed faster with good quality with additive manufacturing, as compared to the slow production processes which are also expensive.
Developing Engine and Other Functional Parts
With the availability of different range of materials that suit additive manufacturing, automotive manufacturers now have the ability to develop functional parts like valves, vents, fluid handling and exhaust systems. It is possible to develop complex shapes such as of the manifold as a single piece with the help of additive manufacturing. Since the product developed consists of fewer seams, the flow problems can be solved more accurately to improve performance of the engine further. It also keeps the assembly process simple, since numbers of parts are less.
Developing Custom Tools
Tooling is essential to create a quality part, despite the fact that most of the manufacturing is done by machines. Customized hand tools are often required to evaluate the product, perform assembly functions as well as improve the ergonomics to improve the productivity. For a low-volume production, additive manufacturing is a cost-effective technique to develop tooling made up of different resins and metals.
Bringing Innovation and Improving Performance
This new technique has enabled engineers to explore design possibilities with more flexibility. It is much easier to realize a custom feature in automotive manufacturing that can improve aesthetics as well as performance. Engines can be pushed to further bring improvements in fuel efficiencies by utilizing light weight materials, single-piece construction as well as functional prototypes through additive manufacturing.
At TrueCADD, we have developed extensive experience in addressing the needs of automotive industry through design and additive manufacturing support right from concept through production.
About Author: Gaurang Trivedi is Engineering consultant at TrueCADD. He has applied his engineering expertise across several highly complex and big scale projects, consequently managing to flawlessly deliver as per the client requirements.