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Automotive and 3D printing: The Complete Guide to the 3D printed car!

Introduction

When it comes to the automotive industry, additive manufacturing is a major game-changer. 3D printing technology used to be only a prototyping tool – and obviously, it still is. But now it’s also starting to be used in car manufacturing. You read it right, we can now build cars using 3D printing. This is the result of a global tendency in the world of additive manufacturing: this technology is now recognized as one of the serious manufacturing technologies, and not just as a way to build a good proof of concept or prototype. Why is 3D printing so interesting for car manufacturers? What can be achieved today? What are the potential next steps for 3D printed cars? Get ready for the ride and discover how 3D printing changes the automotive industry!

Start implementing 3D printing in the automotive industry

Advantages of 3D printing of the automotive industry

While both customers and manufacturers start to dream of a fully 3D printed car; this is being made possible by the ongoing improvement of 3D printing materials and technologies. Leading to a real boom of interest in innovations around the automotive industry. 

We still have to wait a little before seeing the fully 3D printed car on our streets, but additive manufacturing is already well-used in the industry for several applications. Manufacturers are seeing all the advantages of this technology for their business strategy, from product development to production. Shorten your proof of concept and production time, and save money on your tooling process. We will see that some applications of additive manufacturing are game-changing and could be a real competitive advantage. 

Using a car design app

A 3D modeling software is the first step you have to take while starting a 3D printing project.  You first have to choose the perfect automotive software to begin the design process. There are no 3D programs dedicated to automotive projects available on the market. But there are several software you can currently use for your automotive projects. 

The best solution is to use a 3D software made for mechanical and engineering uses, able to create industrial and technical equipment. These apps are changing the way cars are developed and built. Using 3D allows for faster iterations. These apps are offering simulation and visualization features and could help you with realistic rendering that might help you with presentations. 

This is an easy method to work on the design of cars, or on car parts. With these 3D programs, you can use advanced tools to create electronic devices and mechanical parts. You can check our selection of the best car design apps, but keep in mind that these software are not for absolute beginners, you have to be quite experienced to use one of them. 

Iterating faster when prototyping

First of all, 3D printing is a rapid prototyping technology that is used in many fields. Building prototypes in a short lead-time is key for any company wishing to accelerate its product development process. Using 3D printers can be a great way to achieve this, since it builds parts fast, at a reasonable cost compared to other prototyping techniques.

Reducing the car’s weight

Car manufacturers are always looking for new ways to reduce their product’s weight. Indeed, a lighter car consumes less fuel, which makes it more environmentally-friendly. To do so, you can optimize the design of your parts. For instance, Volkswagen optimally redesigned a reinforced A-pillar window support. It weighs 74% less than the original part. You can either create lighter structures thanks to innovative design patterns such as lattices or reduce the number of parts of the car thanks to a more suited design of the components.  

Bugatti’s Divo Supercar 

3D printing is really a good tool to optimize the structure and reduce the weight of your part. That is precisely why Bugatti, the French automotive manufacturer started to include some 3D printed parts in its new car: the Divo Supercar. Reducing the total weight of this car is a way to improve the performance of the car, which is designed to be even more aerodynamic. For example, they printed fin rear lights, making them lighter than the previous model. 
Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S
Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S

Light Cocoon, the extremely lightweight 3D printed car

Additive manufacturing opens new design possibilities for car manufacturers. That’s exactly what the German engineering design studio EDAG understood when they created the 3D printed car called Light Cocoon. They combined 3D printing with generative design, inspired by nature. They successfully worked on the topological optimization of their 3D printed structures, which are then covered with a stretchy fabric that is extremely lightweight: only 19 grams per square meter. The optimized structure of EGAD’s Light Cocoon was made using the SLM 3D printing technology.
Light Cocoon 3D printed car by EDAG

Credits: EDAG

What about 3D printing materials for automotive?

With 3D printing, you build your part layer by layer. As a result, you only use the amount of material needed to build your car’s component. With subtractive manufacturing, you would have lost material, which is less sustainable and has a financial cost. This is even more economical if you work with metal materials. With them, avoiding extra costs for wasted material can truly be a game-changer for production processes.

Moreover, there are now more and more 3D printing materials with great mechanical properties, from plastics to metals. These are allowing to create technical and resistant parts, with the perfect properties for the automotive industry.

Creating customized 3D printed cars

Many car lovers actually enjoy customizing their cars to get a unique vehicle. It can be some external design features, but also some options for the internal components of the car. Since it’s a special order, this has a cost for car manufacturers. With 3D printing, creating only one version of a model is not a big deal.

Genesis, the 3D printed car inspired by turtle shells

EDAG also created a 3D printed car called Genesis. But that one’s not exactly a vehicle, it’s more of an innovative physical concept. It increases the safety of passengers thanks to a revolutionary structure, inspired by turtle shells, produced using the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology. Why such an inspiration? The turtle benefits from millions of years of evolution for their protective shell, which makes it quite optimized by nature. But reproducing such types of structures is not always an easy task. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to produce such complex geometries. What about the results? The optimized structures performed really well in crash tests.
Genesis 3D printed car by EDAG
Credits: EDAG

Urbee, the environmentally friendly 3D printed car

Creating more sustainable vehicles is also a key concern when it comes to the automotive industry. Urbee is designing a 3D printed electric car that aims to achieve an impressive milestone. Indeed, the team wants the car to take two people and a dog from New York to San Francisco, using only 10 gallons of biofuel. How is it possible? The shell of the car is entirely 3D printed (using the Polyjet technology), optimized to be extremely lightweight. 

Shell’s Projet M

This Projet M car has been developed by Shell and now has 93 3D printed parts. This project, and more especially its design is inspired by Gordon Muray’s T.25 concept city car, from 2010. This car is a super light and energy-efficient city car. Shell actually saved time and money while creating this vehicle, because additive manufacturing offered them the possibility to get all their components way faster than with traditional manufacturing techniques. 3D printed car shell
https://www.autoplus.fr/actualite/Shell-Concept-Mini-citadine-Ecologie-Petrole-1503955.html

The 3D printed luxury car

Luxury car brands are also implementing additive manufacturing in their production process! The car manufacturer Bentley used metal 3D printing, on one of its luxury cars: the Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6. This car is a hybrid concept car launched in 2015. Parts of the grill and parts of the body have been created using additive manufacturing. This car is proof that it is possible to combine new technologies and handcraft! Intricate and complex 3D printed parts brought great value to the making of this vehicle. 

Replacing spare parts easily

If some parts of a car get broken, replacing them can be a true challenge, especially if it’s an old one: the parts might not exist anymore. What to do then? By combining 3D scanning and additive manufacturing, it’s possible to reproduce rare spare parts for cars, and even to optimize them before 3D printing them.

Jaguar and its 3D printed car parts for old vehicles

Even traditional car manufacturers embrace the 3D printing revolution! For instance, Jaguar seizes the opportunities additive manufacturing can bring to its customers. The company used 3D scanning to recreate the classic XKSS model from 1957. The full recreation took 18 months. The only difference with the original car was due to modern safety requirements. This kind of application of 3D printing can be also applied to any kind of spare parts reproduction, especially for old vehicles that might not be available on the market anymore. credit: jaguar

Porsche Classic and additive manufacturing

 Just like Jaguar, Porsche Classic, the division of Porsche dedicated to old and classic vehicles is now using additive manufacturing for small series of spare parts. As some parts of these famous cars are not available anymore.  All parts that are produced using this additive process obviously meet the requirements in terms of absolute fidelity to the original specifications, from a technical and visual point of view. These spare parts are made using SLS 3D printers. 

Elvis’s BMW 507

Elvis’s car has been restored partially thanks to 3D printing. Indeed, parts of this BWM 507 are no longer produced. The team of BMW Group Classic used additive manufacturing to recreate some of the old components of this classic car. Without 3D printing, this restoration would have been impossible!

The robust PUV

 The PUV has been developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for a project called AMIE: Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy. The goal of this project is to find new innovations in order to generate, use and store energy.  The whole body panel of this vehicle has been made using carbon fiber reinforced plastic, printed with a large 3D printer. This vehicle is made to wirelessly send power to buildings. 

Vision, the 3D printed wheel by Michelin

The French tire manufacturer Michelin decided to literally reinvent the wheel with its project “Vision”. Their main goal is to lower the environmental impact of cars, as well as improving the recycling of their products. To do so, they created a wheel inspired by nature, with a honeycomb structure, and using only organic materials. It gives strength to the wheel, as well as a very good resistance, making it impossible to get a flat tire. It is then covered by a thin 3D printed rubber layer, the tread, which can be recycled when it’s used. It can be 3D printed and replaced in only a few minutes. Unfortunately, this project is not ready to be put on the market yet, and it should only be commercialized in 10 years from now.

Michelin

3D printing used for car restoration

Our customers Additive Restoration are making the most additive manufacturing to create parts for classic cars. 3D printing appears to be the perfect solution for them to create low volume and custom parts! 3D printing these parts is also a great advantage to rethink supply chain management: it offers the possibility to get a digital inventory, manufacturing the part you need when you need it.

Our special tips for great 3D printed car parts

We just showed you the coolest cars manufactured using 3D printing, are you now inspired to build your own project of 3D printed vehicle? For a successful 3D printed car parts project, here are a few tips we collected from our various customers working in the automotive field. First of all, you have to really think about the function of your 3D printed car part. This will help you choose the right material for your project, according to the technical specifications of your objects and to the mechanical properties of the material. If you’re using our online 3D printing service, you can find all of this information on our dedicated materials pages. Moreover, if you’re reproducing an existing car part, we strongly advise you to work again on it to optimize its design according to what additive manufacturing can allow you to create. You can rethink your 3D model in order to use less material, to lower the price of your part, to make it lighter with complex structures, or simply to make it look better. Feel free to use different 3D printing materials for your projects. For instance, some parts might require metal 3D printing, while others could perfectly be manufactured thanks to plastic 3D printing even if they were originally metal parts. Selective Laser Sintering and Selective Laser Melting are two technologies that might be really helpful for the implementation of 3D printing in the automotive sector.   Do you need a hand to optimize your car parts for your additive manufacturing projects? Feel free to contact our experts from Sculpteo Studio, our 3D printing consulting service and design studio!

Improving the production process

Strati, the 3D printed car manufactured in only 44 hours

The Strati was created by Local Motors, an open-source think tank focussing on engineering and design. It is a 3D printed car that got produced in a very short lead time: it only took 44 hours to print it! The whole car was not made using additive manufacturing, which explains such a fast production. Indeed, the wheels and the battery were made using other manufacturing technologies. But the whole body panel was made using FDM 3D printers, as explained by Local Motors.

The LSEV, the affordable electric car

This 3D printed vehicle is developed by the Italian company XEV and the 3D printing material company Polymaker. The whole project is to show how 3D printing can be adapted for production. Indeed, this car is the first mass-production project for a whole car in the automotive industry. By working on materials and structure, the manufacturer achieved a lighter car, costing $7,500. This production process leads to more than 70% reduction of the investment cost in comparison with a traditional manufacturing system used for production. This 3D printed electric car is already a success because 7000 have been made before the mass production process even started.
3D printed car

LSEV

Blade, the 3D printed car ready for production

Divergent 3D, led by its CEO Kevin Czinger, unveiled a very interesting 3D printed sports car at CES 2017. It’s the world’s first 3D printed car which is fully functional. One of the main innovations of Divergent’s 3D printed supercar is that it uses the “node” technique which involves 3D printing aluminum nodes and combining them with 3D printed carbon fibers, which results in a much lighter car but which is highly-resistant. The purpose of the project was to improve the sustainability of car manufacturing. The use of 3D printing in the factory helps them reduce emissions, produce a much lighter car, and waste less material. Their overall goal is to reduce the weight of a standard car by over 50% and the number of parts by over 75%, as explained by CEO Kevin Czinger. The car is currently at its prototype stage, so you’d better keep an eye on the next iterations!

The 3D printed motorcycle

The automotive sector is not only using this cutting-edge technology to build cars. Motorcycles too can be 3D printed. NowLAB and Big Rep developed the first 3D printed motorcycle during the last edition of FormNext. Additive manufacturing allowed to create this fully functional prototype of an electric bike, only the electronic parts are not 3D printed.

Improving the tooling process of manufacturers

You may not know about this, but additive manufacturing is also a great asset to your tooling process. 3D printed tools are quite useful and will help you maximize your production efficiency. 

Volkswagen, reducing its tooling costs

Volkswagen Autoeuropa, the car manufacturer, is using 3D printing to manufacture some of its tools. The company estimates that thanks to 3D printing they saved 250,000€ in 2017. Reducing your tooling investment thanks to 3D printing could be the perfect solution.

Ford, creating custom tools

The car manufacturer Ford is also using additive manufacturing in its factory to create adapted tools, helping the employees during the vehicle’s production. These tools can then be adapted to specific tasks and situations. Tool, jigs, and fixtures can easily be 3D printed when you need them. By adopting 3D printing, the workforce can then directly create the tools they need and optimize the whole workflow.

The fully 3D printed car

As you’ve noticed, the era of the mass-produced fully 3D printed cars is not a reality yet. The most advanced projects are either only 3D printed car parts or prototypes. But research in this field is going quite fast since there’s a lot of interest in the value additive manufacturing can bring to the automotive industry.

A major difficulty is the cost of 3D printing. Indeed, additive manufacturing is not always the cheapest production technique for a very large series of large parts. That issue is especially problematic for metal 3D printed parts, broadly used in the automotive field. But the ongoing decrease of 3D printing costs for all technologies is changing the current dynamics.

As a result, we might have to wait for a few decades for this technology to become a regular way to produce complete cars and to see the world’s first 3D printed car to be sold. But to manufacture spare parts, 3D printing is already an impressive ally, creating bright possibilities, either in terms of design optimization, of lightweighting, of sustainability, and creativity.

Ready to start embracing the power of additive manufacturing for your 3D printed car parts projects, either to build a functional prototype, a proof of concept, or a finished product? Get started with our online 3D printing service, give a try to our SLS or SLM solutions! Or maybe do you want to know more about 3D printed car manufacturing?

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