Table of Contents
Automotive and Aerospace Industries
Why Use 3D Printing
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3D printing can seem like a technology straight out of the pages of science fiction. When given the raw materials and a blueprint, 3D printers can produce a whole range of objects; from firearms to fashionable clothing. Although the technology has been present since the 1980s, recent developments have allowed it to become more widespread, and 3D printing – sometimes called additive manufacturing – is being used in an increasing range of applications.
Automotive and Aerospace Industries
In recent years, 3D printing has expanded to the automobile and aerospace industries. For example, Swedish car manufacturer Koenigsegg announced the One:1 in 2014, which features a 3D printed exhaust pipe made of titanium. This single component is the largest piece of titanium that’s ever been 3D printed, but to create their ‘supercar’ – which they hope will be the fastest ever – the fraction of a kilogram that this can shave off is worthwhile. Of course, lighter parts don’t only improve speed – it also becomes more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.
They are not the only company that’s sought to 3D print some of its replacement parts. Airbus recently 3D printed over 1,000 components for its A350 XWB jet. At the time, it was the airplane with the most 3D printed jet pieces ever.
Niche companies like Local Motors are also investing in almost entirely 3-D printed automobiles; they have a prototype that’s 70% 3D-printed and hope the next model can boost that fraction to 90%.
Why Use 3D Printing?
In 2017, GE used 3D printing to reinvent the helicopter engine, and there were a number of reasons for this. The part of the engine that they were able to 3D print was reduced from 900 components to just 16 – no more nuts, bolts, welds, and braces when you can make objects exactly the right size and shape. The printed materials were also 40% lighter, and 60% cheaper.
Rather than relying on a dozen different suppliers for the various engine parts – and risking delays or issues from any one of them – the manufacturing process is one-step. With 3D printing, if you’ve got a printer, the material, and the blueprint, you can cut down on the number of steps in the supply chain and the number of people that need to be involved. You can customize parts to very niche and specific applications, and optimize your automobile in a way that’s not possible with mass-manufactured products.
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Another advantage of 3D printing is in designing new cars. It allows for prototypes of cars and components to be rapidly constructed and tested. Producing individual prototypes, or low volumes of customized parts is much simpler with 3D printing.
Previously, replacement parts were a pain for automobile companies. They had to be mass-manufactured to save on costs. They had to be bought in bulk and stored, often for years. For a company, that’s decent capital sitting idly in warehouses. Now, for particular parts, it’s been found that a distributed range of 3D printers can allow the printing of spare parts as and when they’re needed. In the future, it’s conceivable that dealerships could have their own 3D printers to make those parts on demand.
As 3D printing speeds up, it may even compete with mass-manufacturing techniques. Alongside the lower cost, convenience, and shorter supply chain for parts with 3D printing processes, there are also some things that mass manufacturing just can’t do. Certain materials cannot be mass produced but can be used in 3D printing, allowing for more lightweight and specifically suited designs.
Topographical optimization, for example, allows you to create complex geometries for your automobile parts with an automated CAD package, which can then be 3-D printed. These can have uniquely beneficial properties.
More companies are adopting 3D printing for jigs and fixtures. 3D printing jigs and fixtures can lower costs, provide lighter and more ergonomic tools, and more. Furthermore, it has shown a consistent reduction in lead-time by 40% to 90% and cost reduction up to 60%. 3D printing tooling also allows design teams to save time because they can be more responsive with the ability to create one-off custom components.
Ron Clemons, Director of Business Development - Stratasys Direct Manufacturing
In short, depending on your application, 3D printing can provide a whole range of advantages. Highly customizable, lighter and more energy efficient, and deliverable on demand and on location. It seems certain that the benefits of 3D printing for parts prototyping and manufacturing will be enjoyed for years to come.