In the automotive industry metal 3D printing has been explored for many years with OEMs and their direct Tier 1 automotive suppliers acquiring significant experience with the technology. More than in other industries, the automotive industry has used metal 3D printing across the full breadth of applications and areas.
Metal 3D printed parts have been made for unique one-off sports cars, high performance motorsports, pre-production models, low volume automobiles, racing and low volume parts. Also the growth of electrical vehicles, sometimes manufactured in small series feeds, the need for metal additive manufacturing solutions. In experimental or racing settings: engines, drive trains are just some of the parts that companies are making. Enthusiasts, the aftermarket and OEMs have all explored printing rare or out of production spare parts or the tooling for them. Mass customisation in automobiles has also lead to many low volume parts, and this is an exciting avenue. Read more about heat exchangers, tooling and manifolds.
Emissions targets and electrical vehicles have prompted many automotive businesses to look at weight savings on passenger and commercial vehicles seriously. 3D printing has already been used extensively in racing to save weight and improve the performance of race cars. In some supercars low weight metal 3D printed components make a difference as well.
Topology optimization balances material use against performance parameters such as stiffness, pressure drop, flow homogenization and flow velocity. Internal topology optimization of critical surfaces in combustion and other reactions makes processes more efficient. Intake manifolds, exhaust manifolds and combustion chambers all benefit from internal topology optimization. Designers and engineers in the automotive industry are just starting to explore the opportunities created by optimizing the interior surfaces of the parts they made.
Metal 3D printing gives you the design freedom to design and manufacture parts that contain multiple functions. A manifold can be a heat sink as well, while parts of it can be a housing for another part and its interior surfaces can be optimised to reduce the speed of flow for example. Components can also be integrated. Something that is made of several pieces can be 3D printed as one. 3D printing reduces the part count in a vehicle and decreases tooling cost as well.
The vast number of moulds, spare parts and associated articles that have to be produced and warehoused for decades are therefore also being considered. There is a cost associated with this, and it is tempting to consider printing them on demand. Simultaneously, production of a wide variety of new parts can be started. At the moment total cost of 3D metal printed car parts are going down. Main drivers are reduction in tooling, equipment, production steps and the optimization of performance. This is generally expected to grow the number of 3D printed metal parts for passenger cars (electrical vehicles), heavy duty vehicles and special purpose vehicles.
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