3D Printed Automotive Parts

There are a number of areas in which printed auto parts excel over traditional ones for the simple reason that in the design process people have more of an actual say in terms of how the final product will come out and how exactly it will be produced. Therefore, the parameters that are involved become a real logistical challenge and thus far have dissuaded many of the major car companies from investing in the incorporation of 3D printing into their assembly lines. The question is how long can they afford to fall behind and not take advantage of the wonderful qualities this technology can provide from bumper to bumper.

For instance, one of the most desirable improvements over existing auto parts is to achieve a significant reduction of the ultimate weight, while at the same time keeping things somewhat cost effective. This very often means making a particular part less dense and requiring less raw-material. There are a lot of considerations to keep in mind as you have carefully choose where to print less dense and where to print more. Such complexity necessitates considerable expertise and understanding of weight dynamics. When it comes to ingenuity it looks to be all fair game and it may surprise you where exactly in your next car this technology may be applied with tremendous success. With the help of modeling software design can pay off big time. The list of components that could be improved through 3D printing is quite extensive and it can be used to help mediate and avoid problems that would otherwise arise much more quickly from poorer construction methods.

These new 3D processes aid in the ability for many parts to reliably work under intense heat and be disposed to effectively deflect it. This is a major concern for the vast majority of auto parts as this is directly related to how long they last and need replacing. Specifically, it has become the standard for parts made through additive manufacturing (AM) processes to withstand over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, a significant improvements over most parts out on the road today. It is also important to make moisture resistant parts that can handle some wetness thrown their way. Printed components are ideal in this regard as they don´t need to be assembled or joined together. A 3D printer can make a complex auto part that is one piece. Who knows,  maybe in the future all cars on the road will be semi-amphibious thanks to this.

3D Printed Parts: Finding The Right Balance of weight, Flexibility & Durability

The aim is to strike the right balance without breaking the bank, this can be pretty hard to do when materials haven´t been used, or composed, in quite this manner. You can´t melt just anything you want down and expect it to last like it should. Your means need to work for your ends. However, one does have an open field to play with, this is to say that composite and metal printers can handle and modify to an intriguing degree. When it comes to 3D printing specialization is what matters, which is easy to believe when one considers the importance of performance enhancing aspects like fine meshes, thin walls, carefully designed curved surfaces, internal channels for effective conformal cooling (which F1 racing cars depend on), and so forth.

Here are some examples that may become commonplace in the not too distant future.

Tires haven´t changed very much over the years and most are made from the same rubber material, but imagine if new materials were introduced into the mix, literally. 3D printing looks to be poised to provide the big leap forward. Different terrains require different properties in order to both perform better and last longer. There´s plenty of room for diversification, and consequently better performance, as the combinations of composites are truly endless. Korean company Hankook looks to be leading the charge in this arena and has expanded to over 180 countries. This is thanks to their capacity for utilizing printing technology to not only precisely determine the make-up of each tire, but also the design of the cuts that are applied to them.

A big area for 3D production is in the interior of cars or what are called customized cosmetic components, this means what the driver sees and feels. These are most commonly made using stereolithography (SLA) which uses a lighting process called photo-polymerization in order to form composite materials called polymers. Companies like Ai Design can cater to specific needs by printing bespoke items, or those that are customizable, with inspiring attention to detail. This includes special compartments for different types of electronic hardware such as iPhones, radars, GPS systems, sound systems and many, many more.

Large parts like full scale panels, which include resin bumpers and headlights for instance, may also be made by printing resin through SLA. All kinds of aerodynamic designs are already emerging and are sure to slowly, but surely, change the automotive landscape towards a more futuristic and fuel efficient direction. This also means a broader variety of designs that will help to vary the appearance of cars on the road.

There is a considerable likelihood that the ducting that allows air conditioning to flow will start to be made of nylon as this material may be printed just like composite resin. It´s a very effective material that is very heat resistant and durable. There has been a lot of demand for it in the racing world as these kinds of complex parts are required to achieve structurally optimized, which is to say toughened, surface webbing to increase the strength to weight ratio that makes all the difference in a lengthy high-speed race.   

The automotive sector is showing a lot of promise and is constantly finding new applications for 3D printing to make better and smarter machines. For this reason a recent Wohlers report states that this industry accounts for 16% of all additive manufacturing. Thanks to the variability of possibilities that printing processes allow there are many areas where they can yield high-quality parts over more traditional production methods, such as casting. The sheer number of applications is staggering and cars with printed components afford the driver properties that he or she can truly count on.

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