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3D Printing in Automotive

Every year, big steps are made in automotive. At a rapidly growing rate, the automotive industry continues to recognise the added value of 3D printing for a vast range of applications. 3D printing in automotive is used for the development of car parts and tools. Thanks to 3D printing there are now:

- new and improved, more robust designs;

- lighter, stronger and safer products;

- reduced lead times;

- lower costs

The back of a BMW M6 GT3 with 3D printed letters
3D printed letters on the back of a BMW M6 GT3
Toyota motor printed on a Tractus3D printing machine
Toyota motor printed on a Tractus3D printing machine
The Energy Efficient Vehicle with the HAN Automotive Building at the Background
An energy efficient vehicle that is built with a Tractus 3D printer

Applications of 3D printing in automotive

Communication and testing

With a 3D printer products can be created more quickly compared to traditional methods. While it in some cases may be a prototype and open to alterations, the 3D printed part at least provides an insight into what the product will look like. This offers a truer representation than that of a digital design. 3D printing in automotive is also used for aerodynamic testing. With the help of a 3D printer, highly detailed scaled models of automotive designs can be produced. Accurate models allow design intention to be clearly communicated, offering a more truthful representation compared to a description.

Validation

Understanding whether a product will be a success requires a lot of research, especially when it concerns traditional manufacturing methods. However, creating a prototype through 3D printing will make it possible for businesses to obtain feedback from potential customers and investors in a way that could never be achieved before. The product can be customized and altered right up to the very last minute which is something that traditional manufacturing methods do not offer. This means that 3D printing provides a unique and valuable way of identifying whether a product has the potential to make it to market and be successful at the same time.

Production of tooling

One of the territories where 3D printing has been most disruptive in the automotive industry is the production of low cost rapid tooling for injection molding, thermoforming, jigs and fixtures. Within the automotive industry this allows for tooling to be quickly fabricated, requiring little money and then used to produce a low to medium volume of parts. This validation minimizes the need (and risk) to invest in expensive tooling at the production stage.

Produce (customized) parts

Production volumes in the automotive industry are usually very high so 3D printing is mainly used for prototyping. But since the 3D printing technology is getting more advanced (bigger size, higher speed and more available materials), there are companies using it for medium volume production runs. 3D printing also enables designers to customize parts. As 3D printing in automotive is perfect for one-off productions and building single parts in one process, it means that the ability to customize is there to take advantage of. Parts can be tailored to a specific vehicle (for example custom, lightweight suspension arms) or driver (helmet and seat). Traditional methods relied on molds and cutting and this makes customizing a time-consuming process. In contrast to this, the customization of products created through 3D printing can have enhanced structural integrity, parts can be altered to fit certain requirements and its possible to make complex changes.

Joost Motoren uses 3D printing to produce hard to find spare parts of BMW motorcycles

Installation of the BMW 3D printed custom lamp case
Old parts of a BMW motorcycle that have to be replaced by the 3D printed custom motorcycle parts
Employee of Joost Motoren working on the 3D printed motorcycle part

Joost Motoren uses 3D printers to create custom motorcycle parts. “For my customers, this service has an enormous advantage as I can really fulfil all of their wishes and they are no longer dependent on the standard retail parts. We can 3D print the hard to find spare parts and it will cost us up to 90% less”. Read more about the advantages of 3D printing for Joost Motoren.

Requirements of 3D printing in the automotive industry

Accelerating developments

The development time of cars can be accelerated with 3D printing. Companies are able to prototype and make the parts quicker as they are not dependent on other third parties. When a design is ready they can immediately manufacture the part by 3D printing it. When a part does not meet their expectations, they can alter the design and print it again within a short amount of time.

Complex geometries

The geometry of a part has affect on the weight and aerodynamics of a vehicle. 3D printing provides the opportunity for the fabrication of complex structures which still can be extremely light and stable. This provides a high degree of design freedom.

High temperatures

Many automotive applications require significant heat deflection minimums. 3D printing offers materials that can withstand high temperatures, even those above the 105 degrees Celsius sustained engine compartment temperatures. You can read more about how thermoplastics are a good alternative for metals.

Low weight

Weight reduction is a very important aspect in the automotive industry. Automotive applications make use of advanced engineering materials and complex geometries in an attempt to reduce weight and improve performance. With 3D printing parts can be produced in lightweight polymers and metals that are commonly used in the automotive industry.

The HAN Hydromotive team behind the energy efficient vehicle

Energy efficient vehicle

The Shell Eco-marathon challenges student teams around the world to design, build and test driveable ultra-energy-efficient vehicles. The goal is to cover an x number of meters within a specified time and use as little energy as possible. The HAN Hydromotive team from the Netherlands also participates with their own vehicle. Last year the team achieved a consumption of 1: 570 km / l. Aim is to crush this outcome by achieving an even better result in the next edition. Read more here about how students have designed and built a vehicle with the aim to drive as economically as possible.

Moisture resistant

Most components that go into the production of automobiles must be moisture resistant, if not moisture proof. One big advantage of 3D printing in automotive is that all printed parts can be post processed in order to create a water resistant barrier. Additionally, many materials are already suited for humidity like PEEK and PETG.

Part consolidation

Part consolidation is a big thing when considering how 3D printing can decrease the amount of materials being utilized, thereby lessening weight and costs. Part consolidation also reduces stock and assemblies can be replaced with a single part, should repairs or maintenance need to take place.

Tractus3D industrial 3D printers for the automotive industry

Most advanced  Competitively priced  You are always covered

While much attention has been focused on the consumer marketplace, consumer-grade 3D printers are not suitable for large-scale production grade 3D manufacturing. They do not have the speed, facilities or robustness which are critical for industrial manufacturing. Our Industrial delta printers are different. Do you want to 3D print large parts at once or produce a lot of small parts in one print session, Tractus3D printers make it possible. Need light weight parts which have the similar properties as metal, with our PEEK 3D printer you can make it happen.

Create small and detailed parts

Tractus3D printer next to a Porsche sports car in a garage

With a 3D printer on your desk you can easily create small parts and specialized tools yourself. It is far less complex than other machines, which means that you can produce more products in an efficient and simple way without the high costs. The 3D printers in our desk-series have a fast printing speed, a high accuracy and a low weight, making it easy to put on your desktop or move around.

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Create strong and lightweight parts

High temperature 3D printer on an office desk with a person next to it designing on a computer

High-performance materials, like PEEK and ULTEM® (PEI) are stronger and more resistant than other thermoplastics, making them popular in a number of engineering applications. To 3D print such materials, you need a special printer that can handle very high temperatures. The T650-P is designed for 3D printing high performance thermoplastics, which are strong and durable for long-lasting parts.

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Create large parts up to 2,1 meters

Automotive engineers working with a large format 3D printer

The ability to use 3D printing to enhance business operations, reduce costs and improve efficiency is exactly why a 3D printer has become a popular solution. If you’re looking for a way to produce detailed and big objects our large volume 3D printers are an excellent choice. They have a much larger build size than most other industrial 3D printers and can print objects fast at a high resolution.

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Do you have a question about 3D printing in automotive? Please don't hesitate to contact us!

Find out exactly how 3D printing can improve both end results and the bottom line of your business. 3D printing positively affect many aspects, including production time and avoiding costly errors. Our experts can tell you more about it so together we can discover how and where 3D printing can have a significant impact. Contact us so we can start discussing the possibilities.

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