3D Printing: Changing The Scope of Automotive Manufacturing
There are many areas in which auto production at its current massive scale could improve and modernize to better serve consumers. These include making products that are lighter, stronger, safer, more durable and that offer a decreased overall lead-time, the time it takes from initiation to the completion of a whole car. It sounds like a lot to ask for, but 3D printing is showing promise in all these areas thanks to a number of great prototypes, innovative applications and ever growing cases for direct to dealership manufacturing that are slowly, but surely, being developed utilizing this rather unusual means of production. This technology along with 3d scanning is employing new kinds of materials and new ways of working said materials in order to build a superior car.
One company trying to test the 3D waters is Ford, and in 2014 it began testing out how continuous liquid interface production, or CLIP, could very well work out for them. This process was created by Carbon 3D, a promising company that is offering a way to make all kinds of parts and products designs a reality, mainly out of composite materials.
3D Printing: Different Approaches, Different Results
The way the CLIP process works is similar to another 3D printing method called DLP, or deposit layer production, where layers are carefully deposited, one on top of the other. The difference is that CLIP produces products from a pool of resin by harnessing light and oxygen. This is what is called a photochemical process. It uses digital light synthesis, also known as DLS, in a pool of programmable liquid resin through which light is projected through oxygen permeable optics. It is a more advanced version of injection moulding, wherein parts are made by injecting a material, commonly thermosetting and thermoplastic polymers, into a specially designed mold. This provides considerable improvement over deposit layer techniques as in this manner consistency may be maintained due to the avoidance of unnecessary stress. This is to say that there isn´t a layer that is more stretched out or compressed by the nature of a stacking process. It is being currently used by adidas to make uniform, lightweight shoes.
With processes such as CLIP you can make all sorts of things out of polymers such as plastics and it is garnering a lot of attention from those looking to make their engineering ambitions with new materials a successful reality. This is one front that´s starting to receive considerable attention, somewhat unsurprisingly as the realm of plastics and/or composite materials is an area where deeper chemical understanding is making great strives. Materials such as these can be quite varied and therefore through 3D printing can come into great use in order accommodate a wide range of necessities and uses.
Given that there many advantages as well as cost effectiveness, composite materials are on the rise. It´s a market that is poised for considerable surge in the coming years. One major reason for this is that we´re really not just talking about few kinds, but rather many different types of compositions that can serve all sorts of environments and conditions that are encountered in environments all over the globe. Some plastic polymers aren´t meant to withstand harsh summer temperatures that exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit as they begin to degrade and experience chain scission, while others are.
The Challenges and Benefits of 3D Printing Manufacturing
The thing is that companies naturally have to face the challenges that are inherent in the development and incorporation of new materials, it is important to bring costs down to a competitive level, this is particularly difficult in a marketplace where demand for 3D cars leaves much to be desired. At any rate there´s no doubt about it, the industry is waiting to make a big leap towards more modernized vehicles, but at the moment it is holding off, waiting and seeing.
Like in any business you have to weigh the tooling cost, of traditional manufacturing, and the cost of 3D printing services so that you may compare and go in the more prudent and financially sound direction. A report by Smartec suggests that by 2021 the consumption of 3D printing materials will reach 530 million as it pertains to the automotive industry. So there is momentum, but for many car companies a truly attractive bottom line is yet to be seen.
One great benefit to printing composite material is the decreased assembly time that comes from printing a single part without the need for much assembly or too much costly assembly machinery. This kind of improvement would in turn allow factories to become smaller and considerably much more efficient with respect to resources.
One thing to note is that processes like CLIP don´t apply to metal auto parts, which is a big reason why it isn´t getting too much attention. Today, around a billion dollars of the global manufacturing technology market, 3D printing only makes up a tiny fraction. This may feel a bit surprising as one might assume that 3D metal printing would be at the forefront of automotive innovation and therefore something that would be sought after keenly.
The thing is that metal printing is of the newest variety of all 3D printing services. Nevertheless, it looks to be on the horizon. One very interesting example comes from Buffalo, New York. Calling itself Vader Systems, a father and son team have used Gauss guns as a reference point to develop an innovative magnetohydrodynamic print head. It allows one to dictate both the precise placement of metallic droplets as well as the size distributed. Very different from composite.
While we may like to think that that these innovations would be a wonderful thing to incorporate into the auto industry, what is really needed is for companies to step in and lay down the groundwork to thrust 3D printing into what it very well can be. The truth of the matter is that there are many obstacles that need to be overcome before 3D printing it becomes this big thing that everyone will be able to look to as a norm in the fabric of corporate society. Much like the auto industry in its early days we now know that there needs to be a feeling out period for companies to gain confidence.