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3D Printing Strikes Another Blow to Traditional Auto Suppliers

Summary: Traditional auto parts manufacturers face existential threats from several directions. The electrification of transportation is already taking a bite out of their business due to the fact that electric engines require just 50-60 parts versus the 1,500-2000 components in an internal combustion engine. Now, the increasing adoption of 3D printing poses another threat, as car makers are beginning to work with tech companies to 3D-print vehicle parts.

Many do not realize the impact that additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is already having on the automotive industry. According to a survey by Infosys, 66% of auto company respondents said 3D printing is currently utilized in their supply chains. Further, 68% said that it improves existing business operations.

3D printing is having an immediate impact on vehicles before they even hit the road. Prototyping with 3D printed models has already penetrated the industry and could see rapid growth going forward. Low-cost 3D printers can give engineers the ability to test a design for form and fit. Sometimes just having a model or part in the engineer’s hands will show mistakes or value-added alterations. Audi recently adopted Stratasys 3D printing methods in order to drastically reduce the time required for prototyping. Molding and milling are typically used to create prototype designs, but Audi hopes that full-color 3D printing could reduce the number of stages and time prototyping requires. For tail light covers alone, the use of 3D printing is expected to slash prototyping lead times by up to 50%.

3D printing can also enable new developments that would not be possible with traditional manufacturing. Bugatti, in conjunction with Lazer Zentrum Nord of Hamburg, announced earlier this year that it had created the “world’s largest functional” titanium car part generated from 3D printing ― brake calipers for the Bugatti Chiron. This is a significant development because the titanium is so strong that an original equipment manager (OEM) couldn’t easily mill or forge a caliper out of it using traditional manufacturing.

Currently, high-strength prototypes and parts still use a powder bed process to produce higher-strength materials like nylon 12 and various metals. These machines are often expensive, sometimes leaving prototyping and other services to third party services. But that may change as metal printers are dramatically being reduced in cost, new plastics are developed with higher strengths. For example, some automobile polymers are taking a leaf out of the real estate construction industry by adding carbon fiber, a much lighter material than conventional iron, steel or other material, that presents high tensility and elasticity, with increased coefficient of shock.

Even automobile interiors are leveraging 3D printing. The Self-Assembly Lab at MIT has been working with BMW on a project, called Liquid Printed Pneumatics, to create a stretchy, inflatable silicone prototype that can take on a number of different shapes depending on the level of air pressure inside. If turned into a car seat, it could quickly be tuned to different positions, or levels of springiness depending on user preference. The project marks the first time an inflatable object has been 3D-printed.

3D printing could also be effective retroactively as well. Older, classic cars are difficult to find parts for when repairs and maintenance are necessary. With this in mind, Porsche Classic has begun 3D-printing components like the release lever for the clutch on a Porsche 959, a part that’s no longer available, given that only 292 of the cars were manufactured. Due to the consistently positive results achieved to-date, Porsche is currently manufacturing eight additional parts using 3D printing, and testing whether 3D printing is suitable for the production of a further 20 components. These parts would be produced on demand if needed, thereby eliminating tool and storage costs. The company identified 52,000 parts that, if possible to manufacture economically, would help keep its classic models on the road, so Porsche has really only scratched the surface of their 3D printing potential.

Looking toward the future, however, the race to 3D printed vehicles may be defined by who takes on electric vehicles. As MRP has previously noted, traditional powertrains have 1,500-2,000 components, versus 50-60 for electric. Since 3D printed parts that would usually be made up of multiple pieces can be printed as a single component, cars will also have fewer joints and rivets. Having fewer moving parts in a structure increases its overall strength and makes it more durable. Consequently, the prospect of 3D printing portions of or entire vehicles would also be exponentially less expensive than printing a traditional automobile.

Earlier this year Shanghai-based Polymaker and X Electrical Vehicle Limited (XEV) launched a small EV that consists of only 57 3D printed components. The first LSEV deliveries to customers in Europe and Asia could come as soon as April 2019 for a list price of $10,000, and at least 7,000 orders have already been placed. While this is just the first electric vehicle to be mass produced with 3D printing, it is a model that many other major auto companies could follow in the future.

Traditional suppliers to the auto industry have continued to struggle in 2018. As auto manufacturers move toward a more in-house approach supported by 3D printing technology, that slide could continue even deeper.

Investors can gain access to the 3D printing industry via the 3D Printing ETF (PRNT). Some of the biggest auto suppliers that could feel the squeeze include (Bosch Ltd. (BOSCHLTD.NS), Valeo SA (FR.PA), and Schaeffler AG (SHA.DE).

We’ve also summarized the following articles related to this topic…


3DP: 3D Printing & EV Charging Stations

Around 17,800 gas stations contain electric charging stations, which is only 15% of gas stations that exist within the United States. As the number of electric vehicles on roads increase, construction of public infrastructure, such as EV charging stations, must increase as well.

BP recently invested $5 million in FreeWire Technologies’ mobile EV rapid charging stations to provide an easy and efficient method of charging cars. Shell acquired NewMotion, which develops electric vehicle charging stations, to meet the current and future charging demands for electric vehicles. Shell believes it is possible for electric cars to make up 25% of global cars that are driven by 2040. Lastly, Tesla currently operates around 1,255 Supercharger stations that contain a total of 9,955 Superchargers. The company plans to install more Superchargers within the next few years with a large number of stations located in North America.

The integration of 3D printed parts at EV charging stations can provide a faster and less expensive alternative to constructing charging stations.

Sometimes EV owners are unsure of where to place a plug when it isn’t in use to charge a vehicle. As a solution, 3D printed port holders can be created as a designated place to hold the component. Another unique 3D printed port holder was designed by an EV owner, Joel Clemens, to create an easier method of charging cars at night – a glow-in-the-dark port holder. 3DPrint


3DP: Audi signs up Stratasys to slash prototype times with color 3D printing

Audi has adopted Stratasys 3D printing methods in a plot to drastically reduce the time required for prototyping. On Thursday, the German automaker said that the new Stratasys J750, a commercial 3D printer, will be utilized in the manufacture of tail light covers in automobiles.

The Stratasys J750’s lure lies within the 3D printing system’s color capabilities. Stratasys says that the new 3D printer is able not only to color and texture map but also create gradients — of which, can be used in modern vehicle designs and elements that must allow light to pass through. The printer is also able to work with different materials, such as various plastics.

Molding and milling are typically used to create prototype designs, but Audi hopes that full-color 3D printing could reduce the number of stages and time prototyping requires. For example, multi-colored tail light covers require each individual colored layer to be assembled, a process which is time-consuming and labor-intensive. However, the Stratasys J750 gives Audi 500,000 color combinations or the option of printing fully transparent covers in one go — eradicating the need for multi-layered construction. ZDNet


3DP: MIT’s 3D-printed inflatables could shape the interiors of cars in the future

Car interiors could morph into different configurations at the flick of a switch, using 3D-printed inflatable structures developed by researchers at the MIT. BMW wanted to see how the lab’s experimental engineering techniques could help it realise some of the shapeshifting features imagined in its futuristic concept cars.

The result is a stretchy, inflatable silicone prototype that can take on a number of different shapes depending on the level of air pressure inside. If turned into a car seat, it could quickly be tuned to different positions, or levels of springiness depending on user preference.

The project marks the first time an inflatable object has been 3D-printed, with traditional inflatable production methods unable to yield a design this complex. The inflatable was made using the Self-Assembly Lab’s Rapid Liquid Printing technique, which was first unveiled last year as a way of printing furniture and other objects. dezeen


3DP: Volkswagen Saves Time with 3D Printed Components During Production of Electric Race Car

Famous automobile manufacturer Volkswagen, headquartered in Germany with multiple subsidiaries and over 130 production plants around the world, has turned to 3D printing before to manufacture components for its vehicles, but is now taking on an even bigger challenge – competing in the world’s most famous hill climb race with the brand’s first fully-electric race car.

Volkswagen Motorsport, a works rally team of the automaker, has a goal of breaking the record in the electric prototype class, which is currently 8:57.118 minutes. To achieve this, the team engineered the aerodynamics of its electric racing car, the I.D. R Pikes Peak.

Most other racing disciplines have strict regulations when it comes to redesign, but not so for The Race to the Clouds. Fairly open regulations allow engineers more freedom to ramp up the design of their race car’s rear wing and chassis.

During comprehensive tests, the team’s findings from the development phase were optimized with plenty of detail, and the first test run of the original race route should take place at the end of this month. After that, the Volkswagen Motorsport team and driver Romain Dumas will begin the final preparations before the race in June. 3DPrint


3DP – 3D printing electric car parts: The birth of an industry?

In a release talking about the new technology on its website, GM touched upon the usage of industry-grade 3D printing along with advanced software-based design technologies as the latest move in the field of vehicle lightweighting. To do so, it has teamed up with software design giant Autodesk to reach its goal, and in the official statement, says that it uses cloud computing and AI-based algorithms to rapidly explore multiple permutations of a part design, generating hundreds of high-performance, often organic-looking geometric design options based on goals and parameters set by the user, such as weight, strength, material choice, fabrication method, and more. The user then determines the best part design option.

To prove the concept of 3D-printed auto parts, GM an Autodesk built a car seat’s framework, and has stated that while the seat bracket is 40 percent lighter than before, it is also 20 percent stronger. Additionally, while a typical seat bracket is made of multiple different components screwed and stuck together strategically, this 3D-printed seat bracket is just one single part – no joints and edges anywhere.

And with lighter components, and a lighter body, an electric vehicle can travel significantly longer. General Motors is focusing on electric and fuel cell vehicles, and both the energy sources are reliant on weight of load. Lighter components, GM believes, will be key to better performance, particularly from EVs. Digit

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