Additive manufacturing is no longer just for prototypes. Its increasing popularity and technical capabilities have pushed it into position to change the way manufacturers manage their spare parts inventory.
No matter how technologies change, or what new innovations break into the mainstream, the basic goals of manufacturing remain the same: Reduce unplanned downtime, reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary waste, etc. How fortunate it is that 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is one of those cool, innovative technologies that is finding itself a very nice spot in the realm of day-to-day cost and time savings. Not only can it be used to produce interesting and previously impossible designs, it has also become a useful way to change spare parts management.
When a system goes down, making the repairs needed to get it back up and running can be time-consuming. Even more so if the part that needs replacing is no longer readily available. With the right program in place, additive manufacturing can build that part on demand—whether through reverse engineering, digital files from the component supplier, or perhaps through the supplier itself.
In recent years, advances in the printing technology, in the materials that can be used, and the software control of the end-to-end workflow have fundamentally changed the way parts can be made with additive manufacturing, says John Nanry, co-founder and chief product officer at Fast Radius, which provides 3D printing services.
The automotive industry has always had a longstanding relationship with 3D printing and technology in general. Automotive companies that are seemingly successful, have been known over the years to experiment with various 3D printing technology and applications, which has consequently had a considerable influence on the supply chain as well as on product development. Smaller automotive manufacturers, especially, have benefited from the use of 3D printing and have included it as a critical component of their production owing to its many advantages.
In recent times, the automotive industry outdated the predominant use of prototyping applications for purposes of additive engineering into the end-use invention. The flexible nature of the technology and the extensive design freedom offered to car manufacturers has led to the creation of new and cutting-edge designs, therefore revolutionizing the entire automotive industry.
While it won’t go down as the most famous printing invention ever — Johannes Gutenberg’s creation seems likely to hold that title in perpetuity — few technologies in recent decades have been as developmentally groundbreaking as 3D printing.
Introduced in the 1980s and greatly refined over the last decade, 3D printing is a production method using advanced computer technology in which the composition of a material is altered then reshaped and molded to create a three-dimensional object.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a production method with strengths and weaknesses. It’s not a great way to make everything but it is a great way to make specific products ill-suited for mass production.
Additive manufacturing aligns with the needs of the automotive industry, driving advances in vehicle design. Serial production is a reality today in additive manufacturing (or 3-D printing) as the technologies under this umbrella have advanced to a point where end-use parts can be made of both metal and plastic materials, ready to be put to use in real-world environments. The automotive industry has been a major adopter, with automotive OEMs among the first to install 3-D printers — some 30 years ago, in fact, Ford purchased the third 3-D printer ever made.
A 2014 Deloitte study pointed to two major areas of influence for 3-D printing in automotive applications: as a source of product innovation and as a driver of supply chain transformation. Over the past nearly half-decade, these predictions have shown to be spot-on as new vehicle models come out faster and sleeker, with digital supply chains reshaping logistics.
Some of the best-known benefits of additive manufacturing align precisely with what automotive OEMs are looking to deliver: faster development cycles, part consolidation, lightweighting, new and custom geometries.
Automated road repairs using 3D printing could save money and reduce disruption, reports Kristina Smith
It’s the middle of the night and in the street below a team is busy carrying out repairs to the road surface. But there isn’t a human in sight.
A road-repair drone has landed at the site of a crack and a 3D asphalt printer is now busy filling in that crack. A group of traffic cone drones have positioned themselves around the repair location to protect the repair drone and divert traffic around it.
BMW has produced its millionth 3D-printed part since starting to use the manufacturing technology, also known as additive manufacturing, a decade ago. It is one of 200,000 parts the OEM will 3D-print this year – a 42% increase on the number produced last year.
While the number is low compared to the 30m parts the carmaker handles every day and will not have any real impact on inbound material flows, the carmaker said it looked forward to producing more parts directly where they were needed.
A spokesperson for the OEM, which has 3D printers operating across its production network, said 3D printed parts represented a first step towards local part production and pointed toward the production of components in Spartanburg (US), Shenyang (China) and Rayong (Thailand) as examples.
The automotive industry is one of the biggest users of additive manufacturing (AM), aka 3D printing. The Wohlers Report 2018 estimates that the automotive sector accounts for up to 16% of the entire AM market. The technology is popular with automotive OEMs and their suppliers because it accelerates processes and enables breakthrough design innovations. Tooling is not needed, thus reducing lead times, and 3D printing allows the fabrication of parts that would be impossible or unfeasible using conventional techniques. This enables parts consolidation and optimization of weight-to strength ratios, advancing lightweighting goals.
Additive manufacturing is extensively used in design and development, as it allows designers and engineers to quickly manufacture high-quality parts and models to test and validate designs and reduce time to market. Models can be produced quickly and easily offering near instant access to testing and feedback.
Automakers and suppliers are on the cusp of revolutionary change through their growing use of 3D printing, a technology that can make custom parts on demand and has the potential to mass-produce parts.
Once the technology achieves critical mass, industry analysts say, 3D printing also could affect fixed operations at dealerships.
Many automakers now use 3D printing to make prototype parts for vehicle development, as well as tools and assembly aids for manufacturing operations. Several car companies are looking into making production parts with 3D printers in the next five years. Some automakers currently produce handfuls of small replacement parts, typically interior trim pieces.
Volkswagen has become the first automotive manufacturer to use metal 3D printing processes in its vehicle production, the company has revealed.
The automotive giant is to implement the “HP Metal Jet” process that simplifies and speeds up metallic 3D printing productivity by up fifty times compared with other 3D printing methods.
The project is being delivered with printer manufacturer HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy, with all stakeholders presenting the new process for the first time at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.
Daimler and two specialist partners have put into operation a pilot plant that uses 3D printing technology to make components for the automotive and aerospace industries.
The German premium car group worked on the project, which is called NextGenAM, with Premium Aerotec, which develops and produces metal and carbon fiber composite aircraft structures, and EOS, a 3D printing specialist.
The pilot plant, located at a Premium Aerotec facility in Varel in northern Germany, operates various machines for additive manufacturing, post-processing, and quality assurance. The production chain is fully automated, which is a key factor in lowering costs.