It’s hard to believe that we live in a world where you can have access to print almost anything from anywhere with a 3D printer. 3D printing or additive manufacturing was patented in 1986 but has been in the works for much longer. Murray Leinster first described a concept for 3D printing in his short story “Things pass by” in 1945.
As development started to progress, these machines became more accessible, more durable, and more sustainable. From big machines in labs to a small device that can sit on your desk, 3D printing has been advancing quite rapidly. Markets and Markets states that the 3D market is expected to grow from $12.6 billion in 2021 to $34.8 billion by 2026.
What does 3D printing have to do with auto parts?
It has more influence on the automotive industry than you may know. The automotive industry has many aspects and subgroups, including engineering, design, next-generation manufacturing, distribution, and aftermarket.
In the current day, most car and auto part manufacturers will use 3D printing as a tool to engineer, design, and test the fit and accuracy of parts for the cars they are manufacturing. cprime Studios gives an excellent example of the core applications of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry. You can see below that 3D printing can be crucial and cost-efficient for these automotive companies.
What are the advantages of 3D printing in the automotive industry?
Growth and accomplishment build upon the constant innovation car manufacturers must have to stay ahead of their leading competitors. Statista states that the automotive market is expected to reach the size of about 372 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. 3D printing can be a game-changer for this ever-growing industry in so many ways.
Design Innovation, Prototype Testing
While manufacturers are in the early stages of R&D, having the ability to rapidly 3D print parts and design allows them to test various aspects of the vehicle's internal and external components.
Having the ability to do this allows the manufacturers to have a less costly and more time-efficient way of testing. As a result, the use of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry has increased product development and revolutionized production flow, supply chain issues, and overall research and development.
Avoiding Supply Chain Interruption
Supply chain issues have been more of a concern in recent years than ever before. Additive manufacturing can help production delays due to supply chain issues by simply being able to 3D print a specific part on the vehicle that is necessary to continue production.
Printing this product on-site allows manufacturers to make these parts in-house instead of waiting on third-party vendors that may be causing delays. In return, this allows the manufacturer not to delay the vehicle's production, resulting in an end-use production part in a portion of the time needed.
Outside of OEM, there is a big world of aftermarket parts that can be easily printed. Whether it is gear sticks, bumpers, LED housing, etc., the ability to model and print, add directly to your car, and be on your way is the way of the future. High-end car manufacturers are using additive manufacturing to have the ability to suit their range of customers better.
For example, Porsche can print seats and door handles to adapt to each individual as an aftermarket approach. Ford has also released a series of CAD files allowing their customers to make things like cup holders, mounts, etc., that will perfectly fit in their hybrid Ford Maverick. The wide range of things you can do with aftermarket 3D printed parts will continue to grow as the industry becomes more accustomed to that world.
Engineers can test and manufacture designs and elements that would traditionally be impossible with prior techniques; this gives companies more creative freedom and more complex, better performing, lightweight applications.
Traditionally, engineers may have been limited based on the geometrics, the ability to manufacture physically, or the time required to put all of the pieces together (if applicable). These machines build these from scratch, entirely together, ready to go in a fraction of the time.
Tooling, Spare Parts & More
Additive Manufacturing gives the ability to make specific tools, spare parts, and even produce parts for old-school cars. Companies like Volkswagen are creating tools in-house to save time and money. The upper hand with these specific things is getting precisely what you need with the exact fit and having a quick assembly time. Efficiency through production is a top priority for these companies.
Although we are at the forefront of this technology, it will only continue to grow as time progresses. The 3D printing industry is a multi-billion dollar industry to come. The technology will lead to specialized development, custom cars, custom parts, and more. As EVs are increasingly recognized and sought after, they can be lighter, faster, and more complex with printed details. We will see more car part manufacturers hop on board as time passes. We will see a future when you can easily 3D print your car parts at home with a button click. That is exciting and will open many new doors to cars, companies, and everyday buyers. Perhaps one day, you will see 3D printed parts offered by StockWise Auto.