3-D Printing Now Used Widely In Product Development Of Auto Industry

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3-D printing is a process that creates a physical product from a digital model, by laying down one thin layer after another, and the technology is now being implemented widely across the automotive industry.

Ford, for example, uses this type of printing to create prototypes and improve the efficiency of its product testing. Another company which has recently been receiving a lot of attention is Local Motors, who pushed the bar to not just create parts of a car using 3-D printing, but the entire chassis and body of its cars, like the Strati.

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Local Motors plans to sell the Strati (the world's first fully 3-D printed car) in low volumes beginning next year, at a price between USD 18,000 and 30,000 (around INR 11 lakh to 18 lakh), provided the car passes crash tests and certain other hurdles before actual production and entry into the market.

Manufacturers are increasingly to "shorten product development cycles, cut prototype costs, reduce mechanical failures, and test new ways of improving fuel efficiency." Ford, for example, claims that this technology-also called additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping-helped them avoid a costly four-month delay during the launch of the Ford Explorer in 2010, by diagnosing and rectifying a brake noise problem early and quickly.

3-D printing can also benefit the customisation and spare parts industry, since parts can now be made for cars where original spares are no longer available, like for classic cars and vehicles no longer in production.

However, because today's manufacturing processes are cost-effective and faster for mass-market production and anything greater than extremely low-volume production, additive manufacturing may not impact this area of the industry greatly.

But the technology is already seen utilised in cars like the Koenigsegg One:1 supercar, which uses printed parts like the turbocharger assembly and titanium exhaust tip, and the Nissan Delta-Wing Le Mans racer, for its brake inlets and gearbox side covers. It could also be used for the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class' air vents and speaker grilles.

3-D printing has been instrumental in revolutionising the prototyping industry. Lower costs and faster production times mean engineers are able to test parts earlier in the manufacturing process, and also try out several designs at once.

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Story first published: Monday, October 27, 2014, 12:48 [IST]
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