Additive manufacturing is the process of making an object by building it one layer at a time. It is an alternative to subtractive manufacturing which creates objects by cutting pieces off of a solid block of material. The term covers many technologies – including 3D printing, fused deposition modeling (FDM), and selective laser sintering (SLS).
Additive manufacturing has become a major trend in the automotive industry recently. The 2022 Wohlers Report found that there was significant growth in the additive manufacturing sector overall when compared to last year. Professionals are putting this down to post-pandemic recovery and resurgence in in-house operations.
The continuance of advancement and investment in additive manufacturing is expected to have several benefits for the automotive industry. Some of these advantages include:
1. Weight reduction
Weight reduction in vehicles is the most efficient way to increase fuel economy. Studies have found that reducing a vehicle’s weight by approximately 10% can increase mileage by 6 to 8%.
Additive manufacturing builds each component of a vehicle from thin layer to thin layer. This is a contrast from previously manufactured cars that use solid metal materials. This new form of manufacturing makes it easier to create hollow pieces and use lighter materials. Many vehicle companies will be looking to capitalize on this given that electric vehicles – which doubled in sales in 2021 – require a weight reduction to improve battery life between charges.
2. Manufacturing replacement parts
3D printers can be used to facilitate vehicle maintenance and repairs. Automotive experts can create replacement parts using the technology, meaning there’s no need to stock spares. A SmarTech Analysis report found that automotive 3D printing will have generated $9 billion in revenue from the production of end-use parts alone by 2029.
The manufacturing of replacement parts will pave the way for increased servicing speeds and lower maintenance costs for both providers and customers.
3. Rapid prototyping during R&D
The automotive industry is ever-changing, with electrical vehicles and self-driving cars being the latest development. For this reason, automotive manufacturers need to continually perform research and develop new technologies to remain key market competitors.
Additive manufacturing allows brands to create working prototypes in record time. This means that product designers can test and iterate inventions in a cost-effective manner.
4. Streamlining customization
Volkswagen announced that it has been using additive manufacturing technologies over the past 25 years, citing that 3D printing allows the brand to “further optimize the design process.”
As this statement points out, customization and design optimization are key features of the automotive industry. Additive manufacturing makes it easier to create customizable vehicle parts in a cost-effective manner. This is because the parts won’t need to be manufactured through machinery or molding techniques that require extensive capital and personnel. Instead, additive manufacturing streamlines the customization process, making vehicle features more compliant with consumer demands.