The automotive industry has come a long way from the days of manual car assemblies. One of the foremost industries in the world, the automotive sector was also one of the first to start using 3D printed car parts.
However, the industry didn’t start using 3D printing to make parts overnight. It initially started with the use of additive technology to make car prototypes and concept-of-designs. However, manufacturers realized the potential of the manufacturing technique to yield much more. This led to heavier investment into understanding the process.
With 3D printing automotive parts now common, this article will analyze how the process is intertwined with manufacturing car parts.
What Car Parts Can You Print?
You can use 3D printing for the production of most car spare parts. It just depends on the type of 3D printer you have access to. For example, Koenigsegg, a hypercar manufacturer, uses 3D-printed car parts such as their titanium exhaust tips. That is definitely not something you can do on a small-scale printer. However, if your bank statement is strong enough to buy some heavy-duty printers, you can exhaust your imagination by 3D printing various automotive parts.
What’s more, you also can print some cool parts for your car even with a small-scale printer. As long as the part does not get exposed to high temperature or pressure, you can print various car parts. You could even print various innovative additions for your car, such as a smartphone holder.
Now, let’s go back to the big guns. Many huge automotive manufacturers utilize 3D-printed car parts in their production. Examples include Bentley, which uses 3D printing for parts such as their side air vents, exhausts, and side vents. BMW also uses 3D printing for making components for the roof retraction mechanism on their i8 roadster.
Some use the additive manufacturing technique to produce car assembly equipment, e.g., Volkswagen. Its wide application potential is one property that makes 3D printing quite suitable for the automotive industry. The next section will show why 3D printing in the automotive industry has become so widespread.
How 3D Printing is Impacting the Automotive Industry?
While there are no fully 3D-printed cars yet, the influence of 3D printing in the car manufacturing industry cannot be underemphasized. It has made the production process less expensive and faster. Apart from its cost and time implications, we’ve explained some of its other impacts below:
Spare Part Production
Cars consist of numerous parts, some not even in production by the manufacturing company. It is understandable why these companies would not produce some parts as the demand isn’t that high. Even if they produce these parts, it only slows the cycle time of the production process.
However, you could produce the parts you need which are not readily available by contracting the part to a small-scale 3D service. Also, this opens up a business initiative for many. You could decide to become a distributor for these parts by outsourcing the low volume production to companies like AutoProtoWay. While 3D printing car spare parts aren’t so common, it is only a matter of time before it takes over the industry.
Making prototypes are vital to the production process in cars. However, using the actual car components to make the prototypes could be cost-prohibitive. Coupled with the fact that the prototypes require various versions, the process would take more time. This is where 3D printing car parts come in. Unlike the traditional prototyping process, 3D printing makes the prototyping process fast and less expensive.
With 3D printing, rapid prototyping has actually become more flexible. It can take as little as a day to produce a prototype using this technology.
Custom Parts and Tools Production
Car customization is a common feature of car production nowadays. Apart from people upgrading their cars themselves, manufacturers also make limited editions of cars that could have various custom parts. However, sourcing the custom parts to use could be a literal struggle. However, 3D printing the car parts needed for the custom car could save the time and expense of other manufacturing processes.
Also, the tools needed for making these cars sometimes are not available. The manufacturers could also use 3D printing to make the jigs and fixtures needed. A large manufacturer that uses 3D printing for tooling production is Volkswagen.
What Materials Can You Use for 3D Printing Car Parts?
If you want to try DIY 3D printing, you must know the various materials that can work for the procedure. While various materials can work, we’ll only review three types that can work with almost all types of 3d PRINTERS. These three include:
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) is the most popular filament in 3D printing automotive parts. The reasons for its widespread use in making 3D printed car parts are not far-fetched. It can withstand a wide temperature range (-20°C – 80°C) for extended periods. It is also very flexible and shock-resistant. Finally, its transition-to-glass temperature is high, which means it can withstand higher temperatures than most materials when in use.
However, it is prone to warping; hence, using a 3D printer with a heated bed is advisable when working on ABS.
The warping of ABS could be an issue for some. If you belong to that category, then the next best material for 3D printing car parts is PLA filament. This is more suitable for 3D printers without heated enclosures and would not warp easily. However, it is not as shock-resistant as ABS, and its transition-to-glass temperature is lower.
PETG is essentially an upgrade on PLA. It is suitable with 3D printers that don’t have printer beds and is less prone to adhesion. However, it is more shock and heat resistant than PETG. Its cost is also similar to that of PLA. The only problem you might have with this filament is its occasional poor adhesion characteristics.
3D Designing Software for Making 3D Printed Car Parts
Before the process of 3D printing car parts can commence, the manufacturers must make the designs and review the virtual performance of the intended part. This is why the software used is important. Even if you’re a hobbyist looking to make some 3D printed additions to your car, the software is an important part of your production process.
Although if you’re just a hobbyist with no previous experience, you’ll feel extremely out-of-depth with these design platforms. Nevertheless, let’s get into it:
1. Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is one of the tools from Autodesk’s lineup. It can help with computer-aided design, engineering, and manufacturing (CAD, CAE, and CAM). If you want the full version of the tool, you’ll have to pay a $500 yearly fee. The tool is more suited for experienced hobbyists, but some professionals use it too.
Another tool from the Autodesk lineup, this tool is targeted toward automotive manufacturing professionals. Due to its more advanced setup, it has many features to help professionals create various designs. However, it also costs more with a fee of $1,800 yearly.
An inventor is a tool specially designed for designing and simulating the performance of mechanical parts. This makes it indispensable when planning to 3D print parts like exhaust tips, turbo housings, and the like. It is also a product from the Autodesk lineup.
SolidWorks is a more user-friendly-oriented tool made for designing various components. Its interface and power-packed features still make it a solid choice for 3D printed car parts designing. Dassault Systems made this tool, costing a one-time fee of $4000.
Best Printers for 3D Auto Parts Printing
If you’re willing to take your hobby to the next level, you’ll want to get one of these 3D printers. These printers vary in capabilities and features; hence, we’ve curated the best ones you can add to your catalog. They include:
1. Prusa i3 MKS+
The Prusa i3 MKS is one of the best FDM printers. This upgraded version comes with even better features and improved mesh bed-leveling sensors. Also, you get a shipment of Prusa filament shipped along with the printer, so you can get right to work. The prices could be $970 or $1,300, depending on whether you want it sent disabled or ready to run.
2. Elegoo Mars 3
First, the price tag of this printer makes it quite an attractive choice, especially for hobbyists. At a $300 price, you get access to a resin printer with a 4K screen. It is quite efficient at 3D printing car interior parts such as handles and buttons. It also has ultra-fast printing times ranging from 1.5 – 3 seconds. This is one of the best budget 3D printers on the market recently.
3. Formlabs Form 3
Form 3 is a market leader in 3D resin printers. It is suited for professionals, and its price tag reflects this ($3,500). It has an uncanny part printing precision coupled with quality printing ability.
4. Ultimaker S5
The Ultimaker is an FDM 3D printer with a dual extruder. Unlike the hobbyist-centered Prusa MK3S+, the Ultimaker is more professional-centered. Its enclosing also means it can work on materials like ABS with specific requirements. This machine can print almost anything you can design. However, it costs $6000.
Advantages of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry
3D printing is gradually gaining ground among automotive manufacturers due to various reasons. From its production speed to lower cost, 3D printing car parts saves the day in many ways. We’ve explained a few of these advantages below:
1. Reduced Lead Times
In the automotive industry, innovations are constantly needed to bring to the market. Manufacturers want to bring something unique to their customers each time. Hence, there is a need for a lot of prototype design, manufacture, and testing. In the absence of 3D, using other manufacturing techniques for just prototyping would take a lot of time.
Also, even after prototyping, there is the need to manufacture the special tools needed. Using other techniques could also considerably slow down production. This would also contribute to the time used in making the vehicle and might sometimes deny the manufacturer’s first mover advantage. However, with 3D printing, you can make prototypes or tools within a day’s work! It’s much faster, hence reducing the lead time of parts production.
2. Realistic Concept Designs
When designing a vehicle, the software plan is the first step. However, the design can be seen on paper doesn’t mean its manufacturing will work out. This is where 3D printing comes in. With the technique, the manufacturer can have a realistic concept of design testing.
3. Design Flexibility
In car production, the car’s weight determines how fuel efficient it will be. For the car’s weight to undergo reduction, each part used has to be given an optimal weight. 3D printed car parts open up chances to do this. Since 3D production techniques are always in layers, designers can optimize each layer to give an overall lightweight vehicle, saving fuel even more.
4. Protects Intellectual Property
Keeping ideas and designs secret is quite vital to automotive manufacturers. 3D printing helps facilitate this possibility even more. Since most 3D printing production can be on-site, the possibility of the ideas leaking to a competitor is slim.
Making good cars at optimal costs is vital to making profits. This means the manufacturers would need the best ways to keep their production expenses under a leash. 3D printing could help achieve this goal thanks to its low production costs.
WayKen’s Automotive Prototype & Custom Auto Parts Manufacturing
Our automotive parts manufacturing website is known as AutoProtoWay. At AutoProtoWay, we focus on producing automotive prototypes and custom auto parts using various techniques. This includes 3D printing, injection molding, vacuum casting, and CNC machining in the automotive industry.
We understand the importance of keeping your costs low, so we’re also experts in making 3D-printed car parts. Even if your design needs optimization, our SLA and SLS schemes will help to optimize it and speed up the production process. We also offer rapid tooling and prototyping with 3D printing to make your production times as quick as possible.
If you want any related to automotive parts manufacturing, AutoProtoWay is your best choice.
With all the advantages of 3D printing in the automotive industry, its rapidly increasing popularity is understandable. If you’re the DIY type, you could also work on some small-scale manufacturing yourself. However, if you need some complex parts manufacturing, it is advisable to leave that to the pros.
Can I use a 3D printer to make my parts?
A: Yes, you can! However, it is only advisable to do this if you understand the mechanics and intricacies of the 3D machining process.
Can I use 3D printing for manufacturing an entire car?
While some manufacturers are trying out this process, it is not yet approved for the widespread production of daily-use cars.
Are 3D printed car parts very expensive?
Not at all. The process is quite affordable and fast.