3D Printing transforms the Automotive Industry | Sculpteo Blog

3D Printing transforms the Automotive Industry

Posted By Arthur Cassaignau on Jan 20, 2016 | 0 comments

Every industry is impacted by additive manufacturing. Over the past 10 years, additive manufacturing (AM) technologies have radically changed our way to design, develop and manufacture new things. In the automotive industry, those technologies have made wonders to bring new shapes to life, allowing for lighter and more complex structures at the best possible cost. While it remains true that 3D printing is still mainly used for rapid prototyping when developing new models or in concept cars, the evolution of the different AM technologies has led a way where it is also used for final parts in various situation. New materials, innovative finishes, shorter lead time now allow for 3D printing to be integrated more closely in the manufacturing process and in the future maybe in the supply chain for spare parts.

The automotive market is one of the biggest in the world, and therefore one of the most competitive. In its latest report about the Additive Manufacturing and the Automotive Industry, Deloitte stated that “the four largest OEMs accounted for a third of the global industry revenue of over 2$ trillion in 2013”. Staying competitive and ahead of its competitors on this market is essential. As for the many other industries we are covering, 3D printing can play a specific role as a strong factor of differentiation for manufacturers of the sectors for two reasons: it allows for faster product innovations and it is a key factor to transform the supply chain. Under this scope, changes in the Automotive Industry are particularly noticeable with these specific 3D printing applications:

  • Supercars, Formula 1 and Concept Cars with 3D Printed Parts
  • The 3D Printed Cars
  • 3d Printed Prototypes for the Automotive Industry
  • 3D printed Spare Parts (for production and after-sale)
  • Miniature Demonstration Models

Supercars, Formula 1 and Concept Cars with 3D Printed Parts

The documentation of 3D printed parts for supercars is growing week after week with each car manufacturer publishing new innovative uses of AM. Lately Lamborghini and Stratasys communicated together on their partnership to bring 3D printed parts to life for the new Lamborghini Aventador. The main focus for the car manufacturer was to reduce three things:  lead time to develop new parts, costs and weight on the car. To achieve this performance, the engineers used a Fortus 400mc Production System from Stratasys with the idea to 3D print parts in different thermoplastics such as ABS, PC-ABS or Ultem. The main upside of the machine is to use a FDM 3D printing process that allows the production of parts made from different thermoplastics. That way Lamborghini was able to produce parts for their aesthetic functions as well as for their performance. On the page of the business case, Stratasys claims that developing the parts with traditional manufacturing would have cost $40.000 and taken 120 days while FDM 3D printing brought the total down to $3.090 and 20 days, resulting in a saving of 92% on costs and 80% on lead time.

A few weeks ago, a new brand called Divergent Microfactories made itself famous by introducing a new performance car with 3D printed parts. This supercar is based on a 3D-printed chassis that can be assembled in a matter of minutes. The chassis incorporates 3D printed nodes connected by carbon fiber tubing. Featured on Forbes, Mashable and Time the company has developed a specific way to assemble key components for the chassis.

Of course, what’s true for supercars with commercial uses is even more true in the Formula 1 world. Actors present in this very specific industry have been key users of the technology for years. Essentially for two reasons. The first one is that the R&D performed on a Formula 1 car is constant. Every week and for every race, tiny adjustments are made and therefore parts have to be produced quickly. Changes concern both improvments (for weight, aerodynamics, performance) or to repair damages due to collisions or failures (engine or bodywork). Under this scope, the Formula 1 team Williams announced anew strategic partnership with the German 3D printer manufacturer EOS. In addition to the other EOS 3D printing systems installed at Williams mainly used to 3D print Alumide (also offered at Sculpteo) and Carbonmide, the sportsteam brought a new EOSINT 760 3D printer that allows for large parts production.  As stated by the company, the Alumide is mainly used for the prodution of parts for functional testing, ranging from engine ancillaries and complete gearbox assemblies for mock-ups to jigs and fixtures for laminate production. While Carbonmide serves mainly for production parts on Formula One cars in conjunction with carbon composite laminates where improved strength is required.

Quite similar to supercars and formula 1, concept cars are even more exclusive as only one or a few models of the cars exists. While being mostly functional cars, they are also used as a tool to display the future orientations of a company in terms of style, energy uses and values. In that, A LOT of attention is put into design and the production of unique 3D printed parts that will be used only for this car. At a conference a few days before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the car manufacturer Buick unveiled a one of a kind new concept car called Avista. Beside its impressive characteristics as a car (a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged V-6 engine driving the rear wheels, a driver-focused cockpit, and an astonishing design), The car includes numerous 3D printed parts such as the 3D printed trimming on the doors and seat. If in the past 3D printed parts were almost always reserved to places that were less accessible or not visible, Buick took the decision to integrate those parts exactly on spots that are heavily “touched” by the drivers or passengers.


The 3D Printed Cars: URBEE and 3D Motors

A few months ago LocalMotors announced their ambition that by 2017, buyers will be able to go online, customise their car and have it 3D printed in just 44 hours. The Strati has many 3D printed parts in ABS plastic that has been reinforced with carbon fiber,  including the chassis/frame, exterior body, and some interior features. The mechanical components of the vehicle, like battery, motors, wiring, and suspension, are sourced from Renault’s Twizy, an electric powered city car.

The 3D Printed Car Revolution has been initiated by the designers behind Urbee in 2013, who hope to create the greenest car in the world. They recently initiated a second prototype, called URBEE 2. They are embracing Digital Manufacturing as essential to the design of an environmental car. Engineered to safely mingle with traffic, the two passenger vehicle will have its entire exterior and interior 3D printed. They’re now crowdfunding and you can donate to help them to create their second prototype. Urbee 2 will take just 2 days, 2 people and a dog would travel from New York to San Francisco using 10 gallons of bio-fuel, setting a world record.

Urbee 2 car

These companies are both hoping to reshape automative industry by using 3D manufacturing. LocalMotors claims on its home page: ‘Gone are the days of mega- or even giga-factories that consume tremendous amounts of time and energy to fabricate products. A more sustainable, nimble and flexible factory is on the horizon. Called microfactories, these diminutive factories drastically change how we produce large consumer goods for unique local needs.’

3d Printed Prototypes for the Automotive Industry

On the same note, Ford published in October 2015 an announcement about how it used 3D printing to develop the new Ford GT.  The car manufacturer insists on how its use of 3D printing changed its capacity to quickly develop new parts for both its concept cars and production cars. Ford says : “3D printing can deliver prototypes in a matter of hours, enables designers and engineers to quickly test and refine new designs and innovations – sometimes hundreds of times”. In total, the company states that it bought the third 3D printer ever produced back in 1988, and that it has produced 500.000 parts this way in total.

Unlike other companies that have been quite secret on how they use 3D printing in their internal process (focusing mainly on the result), Ford is revealing a bit more about how teams are actually using 3D printing. The first part of the job to bring a car idea to life is to have the sketched made by the Ford Design team. Once it’s done, the job is divided between both the “old fashioned war” and the “new way”. On the one hand, the clay modellers make a scale (or full size model later) to assess proportions, while designers and CAD engineers develop a 3D model of the car. Depending on the requirement, either the clay model or the 3D printed parts (from the 3D files) are used. This process is repeated multiple times in order to find the right shape, the right mechanism or the right material.

3D printing has enabled Ford to try hundreds of different designs for the all-new Mondeo Vignale. Among prototype parts manufactured using 3D printing processes were the unique hexagonal Vignale design used in the upper front grille, with aluminium surround, dark matt metallic finish, and polished aluminium surround; and the high-gloss lower grille, with chrome bars and door detail designs. Designers also employed 3D printing to evaluate Vignale badges and exterior ornamentation, cut from nylon.


3D printed Spare Parts (for production and after-sale)

Spare parts are a huge topic for any industry being disrupted by 3D printing. Being able to reorganize the whole supply chain by producing at the end of the chain, on-demand, customized and closer to the customer is the dream of many sector. There is no reason why the automotive industry would dream it differently. Many car manufacturers sees in their early uses of 3D printing (for prototyping and production on high-end vehicules) the first experiments that paves the way toawrds a broader use of the technology in the supply chain. While it’s a reality that 3D printing is moving more and more towards real production, the volume moved by the Automotive industry remains yet problematical for the productivity of additive manufacturing technologies.

In November 2015, the car manufacturer Audi announced that it was experimenting with the production of complex metal parts made directly with 3D printing. Especially Audi is focusing on part that incorporate key features in their complex geometries and that would be as such very time-consuming and expensive to produce through traditional techniques. Using different technologies (like DMLS or EBM) the company is hoping to 3D print large complex parts.

“Together with our research partner, we keep pushing the envelope when it comes to new manufacturing processes”, said Audi’s Hubert Watl, who is responsible for tool making. “One of our aims is to use 3D metal parts for regular car production.”

While incorporating finished 3D printed part in day-to-day cars is probably not for today, 3D printing is also deeply considered to produce spare parts for the after-sale service. If companies are mainly experimenting with the topic to see which solutions might be the best one (in terms of delivering the 3D files, the parts, the right material, etc.), individuals have already started to create spare parts for oldies or to improve the instrument panel of recent cars.

For instance, the user Autoparis and me released the designs of a phone holder for the Autolib (Autolib is an electric car sharing service which was inaugurated in Paris) that users can purchase in a order to run their own GPS in an Autolib. While it is just an exemple, there are many other customers that brought back old parts to life or designed new parts for their cars. The topic is even more “hot” as the regulation itself compels auto companies to keep spare parts of any item for a fixed and long time frame (around 10 years) in case someone would need it to fix his car, even if the model has been discontinued.


Miniature Demonstration Models

A while ago, we launched a communication campaign in partnership with Skoda. How did this campaign come about? We 3D modeled the shapes of the Fabia car thanks to our in house 3D designer. It was an important step to be sure that the miniature version of the car would look great. Of course, every car is produced at our manufacturing premises: every time someone makes a reservation and orders their 3D printed Fabia, we 3D print it and ship it to the car dealer.

The campaign is initially launching in France and is planned to be spread through Europe. Beyond the customisation part, the campaign also includes interesting contents that show how the 3D printed cars are produced. Here some quick videos that describe the process of 3D printing the Fabias.


So by now, before enjoying the full-size Fabia, you can have fun with the miniature one!


These are the challenges ahead for the Automotive industry while meeting 3D printing. If companies have been experimenting for years, there are at a stage now where 3D printing is a viable option for high-end car but can not be democratized today for their whole production. Step by step, parts produced with additive manufacturing technologies will be introduced in models sold at at lower price tag to bring a faster product development, lighter models, advanced features and eventually customization. Now the real question is who will lead the way ? Does old companies will make the first moves or will we see companies, like Tesla or Google, freshly arrived in the sector win it all ?

If you’re interested in getting in touch with us for more feedback on your automotive project, feel free to contact us or consult our dedicated page.


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