3D Printing in the Automotive Industry
The basic premise of 3D printing involves a process in which a person creates a physical object from a given three-dimensional digital model. Its wide application has changed the way we design, create, and ultimately use parts. Although 3D printing has found a purpose in several different markets, nowhere is its use more profound than in the automotive industry. In fact, it’s said that 3D printing will completely revolutionize the auto industry in the next decade or so! But why is that? What makes 3D printing so beneficial to auto manufacturers and aftermarket companies? Well, as it turns out, a number of things, which we will discuss below:
3D printing is cheaper than standard manufacturing practices, by a large margin. When we say large margin, we really do mean quite a bit. The price gap is massive. 3D printers are relatively inaccessible for most of us, but not for big car manufacturers. The cost of the technology itself is one thing, but when you eliminate the need for large facilities and several hundred robots (or workers) building away, you can see how the price gap can grow to be so large.
The use of 3D printing can give designers new ideas and options they’ve never had before. Chances are if you can imagine it, the printer can make it. This opens up a whole new realm of car design for the following generations of vehicles. Cars as we know them might be completely reimagined.
3D printers are fast and always on time. Unless a machine breaks or malfunctions, you can be sure it’ll finish on time. This increases the accuracy of delivery dates and ultimately reduces the time spent in manufacturing. Plus, because it’s a 3D printer, you can change most of the parameters for a given component through the CAD software. This means that even if you do need to change a certain aspect of a component, you can do so in mere hours or minutes.
Although 3D printing will probably eliminate the need for human workers in certain processes, people are still required to operate the machines and work alongside them. The skill sets needed will most likely change, but it’s nothing to which people can’t adapt. We’ve been adapting to change in technology for a long time now! When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and completely revolutionized the automotive segment, people’s lives got better, not worse. 3D printing will do the same, we’ll just need time to adapt to it.
Cars made completely out of 3D printed components are already out there, so it’s not a matter of if, but when the transition will take place. The Koenigsegg Agera R, one of the fastest, most powerful hyper cars ever made, utilizes 3D components in its manufacturing process (turbo housing and unit). The future of 3D printing is looking bright, but only time will tell how fast it evolves and more importantly, how quickly we adapt to it.