3D printing and automotive manufacturing seems like a perfect marriage between the need for new product and concept development and the means to get those parts into user’s hands quickly at lower than expected cost.  3D printing technology has been doing exactly that for major car manufacturers out of Detroit, but it seems like start-ups and disruptors may have a leg up on how, when and why to use additive manufacturing.

In 2014, the Local Motors (www.localmotors.com) 3D printed car ate up the road with a car produced in under 44 hours at the IMTS show in Chicago.  I received more inquiries on that car and requests for pictures than most products that had broken new ground in previous years.  I saw that same excitement when the car was exhibited at the NPE show in Orlando, with standing room only around the black coupe and countless camera phones taking pictures.  Local Motors, the producer of the car has been taking orders for the production model, and their goal is to make the car even faster to build with more customizing features than the initial offerings displayed.  Their website highlights the build process and underscores how they changed the way we look at car manufacturing today.


Based on printing using polymers, their idea is that the car can be reprinted if you have a fender bender and they are getting highway crash testing in place.  For the latest look at their production series cars, check out this You Tube videos on their offerings.  (I personally like the red LM3, but a 3D printed car seems like it would make me the envy of the neighborhood no matter what the color.)  Now a 3D printed car may seem over the top on the uses of 3D printing in auto manufacturing, but probably where I see 3D printing being the most impactful is a bit more down to earth and used in production settings right now.

Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has used 3D printing for years to do prototyping for very simple reason;, it saves money and time. “When milling these prototypes, we could have as many as seven machine setups. This was an inefficient use of our machines and manpower,” says JGR technical director Mark Bringle. “A prototyping system can make these complex parts in one operation, and it doesn’t require CAM programming,” he says. “So we looked into our options.” “…we wanted to model with the strong thermoplastics available for FDM – Polycarbonate and Polyphenylsulfone.

We can build prototypes tough enough to bolt onto the car, even the engine block, for evaluation, and they can take the heat. With our FDM machine, we can start building new concepts 15 minutes after the CAD design is complete,” says Bringle. “And prototypes are ready within a day. Previously, prototyping took a minimum of a week, and the delays became longer when the inevitable design changes occurred. Now, with the FDM machine, we make the changes and build another prototype immediately after a design flaw is corrected.”

This is just one example of where automotive uses for 3D printing are making an impact.  For more information about 3D printing and automotive applications, give me a call at 866-499-7500 or email me at Barbara@engatech.com.

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