Metal 3D Printing: The next Stage in Additive manufacturing

There are very different obstacles that need to be overcome when developing ways of forming and printing metals when compared to the more commonly used composite materials, such as those that shape plastics like resin. Much more so than with casting, metal printing can make cars that are visually more appealing and perform better with greater efficacy. From interior ergonomic functionality to the safety that structural integrity ensures when complex design is implemented, there is definitely plenty of room for improvement in both the execution and design of a modern vehicle. This rings particularly true when one considers that metalworking, as it relates to the automotive industry, has remained largely unchanged for over a century despite the fact that there is an ever growing trend towards automated assembly lines. Innovation is hard to come by, but there is opportunity, be it through more stress resistant and durable metal alloys or complex geometric designs which new metal printers have little problem producing as far as intricacy goes.

Avenues appear to be wide open in creating custom parts for vehicles for all types of purposes. This is where metal printing is carving out a name for itself by providing high-quality parts that serve particular driving conditions. Urban driving isn´t the same as off-road as the latter one requires a stronger suspension system that can handle the difficulties that rough terrain presents. It would also make sense in such occasions to order up a lightweight suspension system that will allow one to traverse rough, rocky terrain in a way that the vehicle can adjust constantly. It is hard to make parts that are both lightweight and stable. Metal casting has a hard time with this as consistency isn´t very well managed, however, metal printing is able to deliver complex and sound designs while saving on density where necessary.

3D printing is able to tackle a wide array of materials and now it is able to shape heavy metals including gold and titanium to make quality high-end parts such as those required in Formula 1 racing. In the automotive world there is a strong desire to achieve superior performance and more nuanced design and it is because of this that it is relatively easy to imagine that completely printed cars are going to receive more and more attention.

There are new metal printing systems that are proving to be a powerful ally for the car manufacturing industry. A very promising printer is being developed called the Vader system and was recently acquired by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), to be incorporated into their imprint center. This particular printer is unique in that it features what is called a magneto jet which allows one to print metal through the adjustment of liquid metallic droplets. Divergent´s 3D printing technology utilizes laser sintering wherein metal can be compacted and formed through heat without having to melt it into liquid. Printing that utilizes powder bed and electron beam printing seems to be garnering a lot of favor. Scisky´s EB gun works in this manner and looks like it´s straight out of a science-fiction assembly line for robots. It consists of an electronic beam that´s shot directly at a fed wire that ends up being shaped into a re-solidified metal alloy. One great advantage that processes such as these offer is that there is minimal waste loss, which means increased affordability of costly raw metal material. One big upside to the EB gun is that it is used in a vacuum, instead of a chamber filled with costly inert gas like other metal printers.

Metal 3D printers could go a long way to transform the way many electronic and industrial products are made, especially in the world of cars. Processes such as these often resemble welding and help to avoid some of the biggest obstacles that come with this sort of metalwork, slag and corrosion, enabling manufacturers to choose the uniform density that works best for them. They can completely replace conventional cutting and shaping methods such as those used to make CNC milled parts, which are expensive because they are akin to drilling and cutting and therefore require large, expensive power tools.

Attention needs to be brought to the public, and especially manufacturers, so that the possibilities may be explored. As of now many haven´t even heard of the applications that best suit this technology and don´t consider how it can save them from waste. This is particularly true in terms of the long haul as cars can be lighter, saving them on fuel costs, and also better more intricate designs can help reduce wear.

Cost effective proposals and those that indicate a more reliable performance make a strong case. From a financial standpoint you´ve got to feel confident that you´ll receive a positive return on your investment. And said investment is quite sizable as modern metal printers can range anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000. When you´re spending money at this level you better know how you want to use 3D printing on a daily basis for your business. Which means direct to market manufacturing to supply a ready demand, and not just a handful of prototypes each month. That´s what increased performance costs as auto parts made through printing methods can be considered along the lines of the amount of material saved by avoiding the overuse that chunky compositions leave as a surplus. This ensures longer lasting auto parts that are stress resistant when it counts, this is to say they won´t fatigue, and are economically light whenever possible.

With such 3D printing emerging, design experimentation can start to drift into new waters and hopefully ultimately make this technology, as it relates to metal a lot more accesible to the consumer. This may consequently lead to the dawn of a new age of specialized and very personalized car parts and components that perform better than ever before. Designs have been lacking complexity and we may start to see auto parts that are as efficient as they´re aesthetically pleasing.