The automotive aftermarket should consider the benefits and opportunities that 3D printing can bring to the industry, according to Dr. Ben Wood of the University of Warwick.
Speaking at the IAAF’s annual conference last month, Dr. Wood explained the step-by-step procedure and said that while the 3D printing process isn’t ready for mass production yet, “there will be opportunities for the aftermarket in 3D printing but if we’re not careful, we will miss them”.
From valve springs to engine blocks and even complete vehicle production, 3D printing has the potential to completely revolutionise the automotive industry.
In 2014 an American vehicle manufacturing company completed the 3D printing of the Strati, claimed to be the world’s first 3D printed electric car.
During Dr. Wood’s presentation, Neil Pattemore, FIGIEFA technical advisor, noted that light weight 3D printed cars, could be categorised along side quadbikes and motorbikes.
He said: “These are type approved under what’s known as L-cat legislation which means it’s nothing as severe normal passenger cars, I know a lot of the major manufacturers are looking at this.
“One of the things I really see developing are small electric-only cars.”
What is 3D printing?
All 3D printed constructions start life as a CAD file and are processed by software which, among other things, slices constructions into 2D layers before printing them through a nozzle, ejecting hot liquid metal or plastic, layer by layer.
The printing process alone currently takes anywhere from between a couple of minutes to a few days depending of the size of the print.
The layered nature of 3D printed constructions, makes this technology particularly useful for producing complex parts – software determines where the strength is needed the most.
Manufactures can build lightweight lattice parts with complex geometries, parts made of more than two materials and even hollowed structures with wiring go through them.
However, Dr. Wood explained that production volume capabilities are not yet in place for mass production.
There’s also the issue of production time, cost and with weaknesses between layers, there are limitations when it comes to safety standards.
With current technology, manufactures are most likely to adopt 3D printing for prototypes and one-off components.
Dr. Wood described a “genuine opportunity” for the aftermarket which could potentially revolutionise the way in which the aftermarket stocks parts for older vehicles.
Stockists could soon digitally store CAD files and print out parts as and when they are needed with a ‘click-to-print’ service, reducing warehousing space.
“I genuinely think this is an opportunity that someone will be picking up very soon in the automotive aftermarket,” Dr. Wood said.
Already widely used in the aerospace industry for non-safety critical parts and where production is much slower than the automotive industry, Dr. Wood expects the technology to develop quickly for automotive application.
“Because a lot of patents are running out, more people are coming into the market,” he explained.
“You will see a rapid rate of technology development and next year will be very different technology landscape than what it is now.”
Do you think 3D printing technology could help improve parts availability or do you have concerns? Share your comments below.