More Car Manufacturers Now Using 3D Printing

More Car Manufacturers Now Using 3D Printing

There’s been a great deal of hype surrounding the use of 3D printing in the manufacturing and auto industries. This new printing technology is a way to create a physical object using a computer file, much as a standard printer would use a file to create images on a sheet of paper. Although simple in theory, it could have a widespread effect on the auto industry. Car parts can be redesigned and printed individually to create more efficient final products. Due to its accuracy, an increasing number of manufacturers have already implemented 3D printing to some degree. It’s worth taking a closer look at the potential use of this technology and how it’s currently being used.

How 3D Printing Works

The majority of car manufacturers already use 3D computer design programs and rapid prototyping to create their new models. The use of 3D printing takes this computerized system a step further. To print a 3D part, the printer will melt down a thin spool of plastic and set it down one layer at a time. Each layer is remarkably thin, roughly the width of a human hair, so that the printer can devise parts according to the highest level of accuracy possible. Most printers have multiple print heads, which allow them to use different materials and build up a part composed of several types of plastic, nylon, or other materials. They can weave materials together into patterns for a stronger, lighter end product.  This gives the designer greater flexibility and intricacy.

Current Use of 3D Printing

There are several manufacturers already making use of 3D printing to devise their next generation of models. KOR EcoLogic is a Canadian brand responsible for creating the first fully 3D printed car, the Urbee. Although this was just a prototype, the Urbee 2 will be road-ready for the mass market. This car is composed of 40 large 3D-printed parts, to create a two-passenger car with three wheels. Up until now, 3D printing has been used by car manufacturers to create single parts, as described above. If successful, the Urbee 2 could suggest that the technology could be used for mass production. The finished product will be driven by its designers from San Francisco to New York, using only 45 litres of bio-fuel to do so.

Ford has also used 3D printers to create parts for many of its most successful models. It used this technology to create the seat panels and door handle of its new B-Max, and the latest Ford Kuga was developed using a 3D-printed front pillar trim and tailgate bump stops. They are researching how this could be used to create car parts on a wider scale. By incorporating 3D design into the manufacturing process, more complex parts or customized components can be prepared using fewer resources and man-power. The supervisor of the Rapid Technology department at Ford of Europe, SandroPiroddi, has stated that this could hold huge potential for Ford’s future vehicle production.

While at the moment Ford and KOR EcoLogic are leading the way with the use of 3D printing, many other manufacturers use 3D design and run virtual simulations. Models ranging from the Mitsubishi Mirage to the Kia Rio were created using 3D modelling, with printing the next step in this computerized design process. And if the new Urbee 2 is successful in its road test, it could inspire greater confidence in larger brands to use 3D printing to create increasingly efficient cars.

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