Three years back, with the launch of Strati – the first 3D printed car, the automotive industry had burst into celebrations. Being one of the biggest, and undoubtedly one of the most competitive markets in the world, the automotive industry is constantly looking for innovations. And, when Local Motors launched Strati, it opened doors for further research in the automotive industry. Since then several OEMs have conducted a lot of R&D activities to understand how 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) can enhance their products.
Right from designing, development, to manufacturing – 3D printers have changed the way automotive industries function. Luckily it is not just the automotive industry, but the healthcare sector, aerospace, and electronic industry as well which have benefitted from additive manufacturing.
3D printers – Designing Cars of the Future
Prototyping and Tooling are the two chief applications of 3D printers in automotive manufacturing. Earlier manufacturers would outsource the prototype building process, which leads to high additional costs along with longer turnaround time. With 3D printers’, OEMs can reduce both the cost and the turnaround time to almost one-fourth of what it took earlier. Thus, along with high adaptability level and innovative designing, 3D printers enable OEMs to manufacture parts without expensive tooling.
Until now most of the prototypes made using 3D printers have been small. But recently, Ford Motor Company entered a partnership with Stratasys to make large-scale one-piece auto parts, like spoilers, for prototyping and future production vehicles. Similarly, Audi and EOS have come together to bring advanced AM to the automotive industry.
All these developments highlight the fact that 3D printers have high potential in the automotive industry. Adoption of 3D printers is also a positive step towards greener earth – as it helps build light-weight parts which lead to greater fuel efficiency.
Roadblocks on the way to 3D printers
Despite having several advantages, the fact remains that 3D printers are not flexible enough to work on different materials. At present these printers can only use specific raw materials like plastics, nylon, and epoxy resins. Also with low penetration of the 3D technology and intellectual property right issues, there is a pressing need for a well-defined legal framework for the proper adoption and application of this technology.
Like any new technological innovation, it is expected that 3D printing technology too will gradually get more popularity and overcome the apparent challenges it faces at present.
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