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Cars and 3D Printing: The Story So Far…

Picture of Alex Haysler
by Alex Haysler
Oct 9, 2019

Additive technologies are now widely used in the automotive industry, but how exactly are carmakers utilizing 3D printing to improve their products? Find out how companies great and small are getting the most from Industry 4.0.

3D Printing Cars The Automotive Future, Now

An active spoiler bracket 3D printed for the Bugatti Chiron.
An active spoiler bracket 3D printed for the Bugatti Chiron. (Source: 3dprintingindustry.com)

Car companies are using 3D printing technologies more and more to reduce times to market, eliminate costs from the production line, and produce complex parts. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to conduct rapid revisions and alterations without significant delays and expenses, which are commonplace with conventional manufacturing methods.

But what are the specifics behind how automakers are applying 3D printing? Let’s take a look at how the automotive industry, from the powerhouse carmakers turning out millions of vehicles a year to the smaller outfits producing bespoke creations for select clientele, is using this up and coming technology.


3D Printing Cars Volkswagen

One of many liftgate badge gauges designed and printed in-house.
One of many liftgate badge gauges designed and printed in-house. (Source: Ultimaker / YouTube)

VW is one of the largest automakers in the world, starting out as the “people’s car” (the literal translation of “Volkswagen”) in the late 1930s and transforming into the modern-day multinational corporation. In 2018, they sold 10.8 million vehicles worldwide.

One arm of the business, VW Autoeuropa, has revolutionized the manufacturing workflow through 3D printing tooling, jigs, and fixtures for the cars produced in its Portugal factory, namely the VW Scirocco, Sharan, and the Seat Alhambra.

VW Autoeuropa has teamed up for this endeavor with Ultimaker, currently utilizing seven of their FDM 3D printers and, in doing so, producing in-house 93% of all previously externally-manufactured tools. Essential items that have been transformed include the following:

  • Liftgate badge gauge: Originally taking 35 days and costing up to €400 ($440), the use of FDM 3D printing allowed these parts to be completed inside four days at a cost of just €10 ($11) – a cost savings of 98% and a time savings of 89%. A multi-part design not previously possible allows for small elements of the jig to be replaced as opposed to completely scrapping the entire tool.
  • Window gauge: Used to position the rear quarter window with high accuracy and repeatability, this jig was originally €180 ($198) per part and is now only €35 ($38). The window gauges (like the majority of the jigs) have been printed using a combination of PLA and TPU. The latter comes into contact with window glass and paint and, in doing so, significantly reduces the possibility of scratches on the surface of the glass. This was a key issue for VW in the past, as the traditional methods resulted in multiple surface defects, requiring extensive post-processing.
  • Wheel protection jig: Designed to fit around the wheel nut cavities, this part allows for bolts to be tightened without heavy-duty tooling scuffing or damage to the alloy wheels. The cost came down from €800 ($880) to €21 ($23), and the time from 56 days to just 10.

These examples represent small pieces of the puzzle but have contributed to expected savings of around €325,000 ($360,000). The 3D printed tools are additionally more ergonomic and facilitate increased efficiencies in manufacturing due to designs additionally accommodating ease of operation.


3D Printing Cars Bugatti

Testing Bugatti's 3D printed caliper at the extremes.
Testing Bugatti's 3D printed caliper at the extremes. (Source: volkswagenag.com)

Bugatti (now part of the Volkswagen Group) is a French manufacturer of luxury, high-performance cars. Since its birth in 1909, Bugatti has been famed for a high level of detail and artistic execution of designs, stemming from its founding father, the Italian-born designer Ettore Bugatti.

In recent years, Bugatti has been using metal additive manufacturing, namely in the production of a bionically-optimized front axle differential housing. To date, this part is the largest functional titanium component printed using selective laser melting (SLM) to have been tested.

Check out the video of the dynamic bench test of the titanium caliper, with the following extreme temperature, strength and stiffness targets met:

  • Material: Titanium (aerospace alloy Ti6Al4V)
  • Brake disc temperature: up to 1,100 °C
  • Speeds: >375 km/h (233 mph)
  • Braking force: 1.35 G
  • Tensile strength: 1,250 MPa
  • Material density: >99.7%

Not all of the credit should go to the VW group – Siemens lent their part-optimization expertise to reduce iterations and find the correct balance between weight and rigidity.

A second component, an active spoiler bracket, was also produced at a weight reduction of 5.4 kg (53%) but with increased rigidity. This helps to support the aerodynamic requirements of the spoiler, which must endure accelerating to 400 km/h in 32.6 seconds and then decelerating to zero in just 9 seconds.


3D Printing Cars BAC

Driver-customized grips in the BAC Mono R.
Driver-customized grips in the BAC Mono R. (Source: newatlas.com)

Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) is a British supercar company based in Liverpool and manufacturer of the new and iconic Mono.

In designing the lighter and better-performing Mono R, BAC focused on 3D printing techniques to extract every last drop of speed. Materials supplier DSM were brought on board and provided two materials that were used in end-use parts:

  • Novamid ID 1030-CF10 filament: This carbon-fiber-filled polyamide 6/66 facilitates printing durable and structural end-use parts with high dimensional stability and at elevated temperatures, completely warp-free. Printing with this is possible on a standard machine but requires a hardened nozzle.
  • Somos WaterShed XC 11122 resin: This easy-to-use, low-viscosity, and water-resistant resin mimics the look and feel of clear thermoplastics, such as ABS and PBT. This resin produces optically-clear parts with a smooth and durable finish. The cost of this material makes this product more big-industry-specific.

The Stratasys F900 FDM 3D printer was BAC’s main weapon of choice, cutting the lead time for testing parts, such as the air intake, from over two weeks to a matter of hours.

Steering wheel grips fully customized to the driver have also been produced, facilitating an unparalleled level of bespoke options for customers. The introduction of these AM components has largely contributed to a 20-kg reduction in weight of the Mono R (down from 580 to 560 kg). 


3D Printing Cars Hackrod

Hackrod's La Bandita.
Hackrod's La Bandita. (Source: hackrod.com)

Hackrod is a digital industrial design company based in California, and with its car La Bandita, it has attempted to create a fully-customizable vehicle using a mixture of 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI). The intention is to build self-designed cars using generative algorithms.

Siemens has also come on board, providing a wide range of software tools through their flagship Siemens Digital Industries Software.

Hackrod aims to manufacture time-consuming parts, in particular the chassis, using additive manufacturing techniques. To do this, they’re exploring the processes required to 3D print a full-size generatively-designed chassis in aluminium using metal deposition techniques.

Since 2018, the company has successfully printed the La Bandita chassis using a unique hybrid manufacturing technique. In particular, they combine a polymer material, printed through extrusion, and aluminum, printed using a wire arc process. These two AM methods are combined with 5-axis CNC machining (on a Siemens Sinumerik 840D), and the following steps are taken to achieve the finished chassis:

  1. 3D printing (additive): An additive head extrudes material in both techniques mentioned above (using polymer and aluminum) and then moves out of the way for the 5-axis spindle on the CNC machine.
  2. CNC machining (subtractive): A 5-axis spindle machines material away using up to 10 tools, including a ball mill, a lollipop cutter, a block cutter, and an end mill.

In the end, only La Bandita’s chassis, frame, and body supports will be 3D printed. The other components will come from a library of existing parts that are suitable for reuse. Hackrod have also launched the world’s first motorcycle designed, engineered, and printed “straight out of a video game.” The future looks exciting for Hackrod and additive manufacturing!


3D Printing Cars BMW

A customized cockpit facia in the Mini.
A customized cockpit facia in the Mini. (Source: yours-customised.mini)

The BMW Group incorporating Mini and Rolls-Royce. Over 230,000 cars across the group were sold worldwide in 2018. BMW has been actively researching AM technologies since 1990, with a project 3D printing bespoke seats for the British Paralympic Basketball team, laying the foundations for 3D printing finding its way into their road cars:

  • BMW i8 Roadster: The i8 Roadster roof bracket was developed and improved using topology optimization before SLM was used to 3D print the parts. The bracket itself attaches to the convertible roof cover, thus requiring adequate strength to lift, push, and pull the weight of the roof. As a result of optimization, the final design came out 44% lighter than the previous model.
  • Mini: Mini, with its integration customization software created by Twikit, is the first car manufacturer to provide a mass customization service using 3D printing. So far, side scuttles, dashboard assembly, LED door sills, and an LED door projector are among the items that can be personalized to suit each customer.

3D Printing Cars David Brown Automotive

Complex interior panels created using 3D printing.
Complex interior panels created using 3D printing. (Source: en.wheelsage.org)

David Brown Automotive is a small, independent manufacturer based out of Silverstone, the heart of motor racing in the UK. They have successfully carved out a niche in combining retro designs and traditional crafting, showcasing the “best of British” with state-of-the-art technology and engineering.

Expertise in low-volume manufacturing combined with the retro and modern mashup is no more apparent than on their Speedback GT model:

  • Interior door panels are 3D printed by a supplier to achieve the required curvature before the wood veneer is traditionally hand-applied in-house.
  • Air intakes and sunvisors: Raise 3D Pro printers turn out prototypes as well as end-use items for these and other components.

In the Mini Remastered model, the rear seat door pockets are also 3D printed in the factory. All of this 3D printing was born from a simple cost and timing analysis, which made clear it was worthwhile to produce interior components this way. In doing so, complex shapes were possible and additional tooling was eliminated from the manufacturing process.


3D Printing Cars Local Motors

It's faster to watch the LOTR trilogy than print the LM Olli!
It's faster to watch the LOTR trilogy than print the LM Olli! (Source: autofutures.tv)

Local Motors (LM) is a ground mobility company with a core focus on shaping the future for the better. Since 2007, it has aimed to collaborate and co-create, using open-source designs to begin low-volume manufacture across a series of micro-factories:

  • Strati: The Strati is an electric car developed by LM and is claimed by multiple sources to be the world’s first 3D printed car. The car took just 44 hours to 3D print (on the BAAM 3D printer) and three days to mill to shape and assemble. Both the chassis and body were printed using ABS reinforced with carbon fiber.
  • Olli: The Olli is a low-speed autonomous shuttle bus and is the result of testing over 2,000 different materials since the release of the Strati. The Olli can be printed in around 10 hours (a time reduction of 77%) and has been crash tested at 25 mph as a worst-case scenario, disproving any theories around a lack of safety in 3D printed materials.

3D Printing Cars What's Next?

Showcasing Hackrod's 3D printed chassis.
Showcasing Hackrod's 3D printed chassis. (Source: Siemens)

Many more fantastic automotive projects are underway that utilize AM technologies, and they’re sure to push the industry further in the next few years:

  • Liberty Powder Metals: Liberty Powder Metals, a UK-based industrial metals company, has been granted £4.6 million ($5.75 million) from parent company Liberty House Group and the UK government to develop specialty automotive alloy metal powders for 3D printing.
  • Siemens & EDAG: Siemens and EDAG Group, an independent automotive engineering company, are collaborating on the NextGen Space Frame 2.0, which consists of an aluminum structure with bionically designed and additively manufactured nodes. These components aim at transforming the flexibility of manufacturing methods to accommodate larger numbers of vehicle derivatives.
  • Continental AG: Continental opened up a new facility in Karben, Germany, dedicated to test AM technologies and materials as well as develop processes to filter back into current in-house manufacturing of automotive parts, such as brake calipers, and fluid reservoirs.
  • BMW: BMW Group has launched what promises to be a cornerstone project for mass production of a minimum of 50,000 components per year using AM techniques.
  • Swinburne University / Tradiebot Industries / AMA Group: The project “Repair Bot” enables low-cost same-day rapid repair services for automotive plastic trim and assembly components damaged in crashes. They have already had success with a replacement lug for a headlamp assembly, which was 3D printed using a robotic arm.
  • Sterling & Xander Backus: This great home car bodywork print project of a Lamborghini Aventador shows there may yet be a breakaway subculture of individual designers looking to customize basic automotive packages with their own bodywork designs, sharing and developing new and innovative bodywork in the process!

The future really does look bright for carmakers using and developing additive manufacturing technologies and processes. Only time will tell if they continue to drive the development of Industry 4.0 through the next decade and beyond.

(Lead image source: 3dprintingmedia.network)

License: The text of "Cars and 3D Printing: The Story So Far…" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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