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.
A team of researchers at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia) is using laser metal deposition technology (a 3D printing technique) to build and repair defense aircraft parts in a two-year collaboration with RUAG Australia (Bayswater, Australia) and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC; Carlton, Australia).
Laser metal deposition technology feeds metal powder into a laser beam, which when scanned across a surface adds new material in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar, or in some cases superior, to those of the original material. “It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” explains Professor Milan Brandt, who is leading the work. He says the concept is proven and prospects for its successful development are extremely positive.
The W80 nuclear warhead is a small American thermonuclear warhead designed for deployment on cruise missiles. A program has been implemented to extend the life of the warhead, called the W80-4 LEP, or life extension program. Recently the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) gave passing grades to the plans to refurbish certain components as well as to the proposed approach to developing component cost estimates.
The warhead, once refurbished, will be paired with a new cruise missile that is being developed by the US Air Force. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is the lead nuclear design agency and is working with Sandia National Laboratories, the lead non-nuclear design agency. The work being done on the warhead is to satisfy military requirements to pair the warhead with the new delivery system and improve the weapon’s safety, security and operational logistics, as well as to maintain effectiveness without the need for additional explosive tests. The first production of the W80-4 is scheduled for 2025.
As a somewhat nerdy by-product of working in an industry that looks at manufacturing the world differently, I too find myself often viewing the world through an additive lens. Perhaps the place I do this most is when traveling on an airplane where I tend to scour the cabin for places where additive manufacturing (AM) could be present someday soon.
The lifespan of an aircraft, typically between 20 and 30 years, makes maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and retrofit, both big and necessary businesses. Think of every plane you’ve been on in the last few years that still featured a now-defunct charging socket from the 1980s – aircraft are not changing overnight to keep up-to-date with consumer expectations. However, Airbus’ Global Market Forecast projects that over the next 20 years the commercial aircraft upgrades services market will be worth 180 billion USD.
Sometimes, an urgently needed spare part is not available aboard and it would be both too expensive and too time-consuming to send an aircraft fly to a base where it could be obtained via the logistical supply chain. This is why 3D printers have been installed in US aircraft carriers. And these are able to print impressively large objects in a wide variety of appropriate materials.
The same technique is spreading among the ground forces in some large-scale operations. It is the case for the NATO-led Resolute Support operation in Afghanistan. The foundations for the use of this technology have been laid in Mazar-e Sharif in what is commonly called the “maintenance mile”. By means of 3D printing, individual requirements from the soldiers on operations can be fulfilled more quickly.
SLM Solutions has revealed automotive giant, Audi has been using its selective laser melting process to produce prototypes and manufacture rarely-requested spare parts.
The German company has sought to adopt SLM’s metal 3D printing technology to target a number of automotive applications. Typically, it is the smaller, more complex, and less cost-sensitive components, like the water adapters for the Audi W12 engine, which are produced on-demand by Audi with an SLM 280 machine, that are most suitable to be additively manufactured.
Audi has been utilising metal additive manufacturing for special application areas, able to manufacture sizable components on the 280 x 280 x 365 mm3 build space. Thanks to the machines’ powerful 700W lasers build times are reduced, enhancing productivity while maintaining quality. It is enabling Audi to manufacture on-demand, supplying spare parts as and when they are needed, rather than producing them in advance and putting them into storage. Simplifying logistics and warehousing, implementing an on-demand production approach brings both economical and sustainability benefits, in addition to the rapid prototyping and greater creative freedom 3D printing technology is renowned for.
Essen/Berlin – DB Schenker plans to deploy innovative solutions to meet the rising expectations of customers in the automotive sector. This will see the logistics service provider focus on the latest developments in the car industry, such as 3D printing to manufacture replacement parts, in addition to continuing its provision of long-established core services. Schenker wants to devote its energy to meeting the technological requirements of “additive production” and maintaining its progress in this field. The major benefit for customers takes the form of reduced warehousing costs, as spare parts are manufactured only when they are required. Faster production reduces delivery times. Similarly, DB Schenker plans to strengthen its market position by specializing in storing and transporting lithium batteries. Battery logistics entail extremely complex processes, as car batteries are classified as hazardous items requiring special transportation and storage.
“Our declared aim is to offer our customers around the globe the best logistics services in the aftermarket sector. Thanks to our vast experience in the automotive sector, our highly trained specialists and our dedicated innovation and quality programs, I am confident that we will achieve this aim,” says Stephan Allgeier, Vice President Vertical Market Automotive – Global Business Development Schenker AG.
Porsche has a huge supply of spare parts to keep its classic cars on the road, but it doesn’t have everything. Supplies of certain components run out, and often, it’s way too expensive to build a bunch more, especially for limited-production cars like the 959. That’s why Porsche Classic has turned to 3D printing to make limited numbers of certain spare parts.
Right now, Porsche is manufacturing nine spare parts using 3D printers, and it’s testing 20 more for production viability. The parts offered now include the clutch-release lever for the 959, a crank arm for the 964, and others.
Additive manufacturing is making serious inroads for MRO applications, but challenges may slow its adoption for some uses.
Aviation is a necessarily cautious industry, where new technologies are adopted only after exhaustive testing and certification processes. As such, additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is still in its infancy across the airframe and engine supply chains.
South Carolina-based 3D Systems, which produces additive manufacturing (AM) machines, manufactures only 12 such parts in current-production engines, and fewer than 1,000 on Boeing and Airbus aircraft. In comparison, the company prints more than 500,000 metal parts for other industries each year.
Create It Real, a Danish 3D printing company, has established a pilot project with the Green Ship of the Future consortium to explore printing on board ships and address Intellectual Property (IP) rights.
The project is part of the Green Ship of the Future’s ‘The maritime opportunity space of 3D print’ portfolio, and will specifically look into the streamlining of its supply chain by printing spare parts as and when necessary. It is being financed by the Danish Maritime Fund.