3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital design. It is opposite of subtractive manufacturing which involves slicing of physical objects in their digital form so as to produce complex functional shapes using less material than traditional manufacturing methods. The physical object may be of any shape or geometry. It is scanned to produce 3D digital model data of various sequential layers or another electronic data source such as an Additive Manufacturing File (AMF) file. This design file is sliced into thin layers which is then sent to the 3D printer. Now material is being added to produce thinly sliced horizontal cross-section layer by layer of the object which is then fused or solidified together to obtain the physical object. The materials used may vary depending on the 3D printer and the nature of physical object it may be plastic, polymer, rubber, concrete, paper, ceramic, sandstone, metals or alloys. The printing can take hours to complete depending on the size, morphology and post processing time to reach the desired finish.
3D printing is finding increasingly great application in automotive industry. It is used in making prototypes as well as finished parts like bellows, complex ducting, high detail visual prototypes and functional mounting brackets. 3D printing has significantly transformed the way automobiles are designed, developed and manufactured. 3D printers have added benefits in automotive design due to rapid prototyping, drastically reduced turnaround time, lower consumption/wastage, produces high quality part and reduced overall cost of production. It is argued that with 3D printing products, waste material produced from the production of the vehicle is drastically reduced. 3D printing also enables to reduce the number of plastic parts in the car than using conventional production methods. This would drastically reduce the environmental impact of car production.
3D printing: Now and the future
Many established manufacturers have recently begun to use 3D printing. Let’s see what’s cooking! Many Formula 1 racing teams are using 3D printing for creating custom car parts. Swedish car manufacturer Koenigsegg is using 3D printing to manufacture turbocharger. The Porsche Classic division is using the technology to produce spare parts for rare vehicles that may not be readily available. Volkswagen makes 3D-printed gear shifters, water connectors for engines and metal pieces to connect door handles to leather interiors. Ford has been 3D printing prototypes and now intends to use it as a means for production of light weight cast material (as compared to cast metal counterparts) which would eventually lead to greater fuel efficiency. Bugatti uses a 3D printer to create the titanium eight-piston brake caliper of the Chiron hypercar. It is 40% lighter than the current aluminium calipers Chiron uses. The new caliper uses aerospace-grade titanium alloy that can withstand a force of 1223 Newtons. It took 45 hours and four 400-watt laser lay down a total of 2213 layers of titanium powder into a caliper shape. This process was followed by heat treatment in a furnace to eliminate residual stress and smoothening of rough edges using physical or chemical processes. At BMW Group Digital Day 2018, the German manufacturer revealed a metal 3D-printed frame and production-ready carbon-fibre swingarm. The frame houses the in-line-four engine from the S1000RR that has been created using a 3D-printing technology called Selective Laser Melting. Mini offers 3D printed trim that can be completely customised. And now the world’s first 3D printed car is set to make production from next year. The Chinese company Polymaker and Italy-based vehicle manufacturer X Electrical Vehicle (XEV) have come together to jointly manufacture the smart-sized LSEV almost entirely made by using 3D printing technology. Only a few components, such as the chassis, glass windscreen and tyres are made using conventional methods. The prototype for the LSEV demonstrates the performance it can offer. The prototype weighs 450kg, can do 43mph and is capable of a 93-mile range. LSEV prototype took three days in production and XEV expects production to eventually total around 500 units per year on a single production line. Surly we will soon see many more 3D printed cars.