Additive Manufacturing in the Automotive Industry
According to IBIS World, a total of 86 million cars were produced globally in 2013, which leaves an enormous amount of possibilities for the application of automotive additive manufacturing.
This process has already been used in the industry for a range of different vehicle parts, but its uses are set to expand even further, as its application is ideally suited to automotive. Statistics from Wohlers Associates produced in the year 2018 show that 16% of all additive manufacturing was used in the automotive industry.
Here’s a closer look at additive manufacturing and its processes and how they’re used to great effect in the automotive industry.
Why is it so Useful?
Additive manufacturing is already being used to great effect in the automotive industry, but experts predict that the new of this technology will explode even further in the near future. A cost effective option, additive manufacturing offers a possibility for even small producers to be able to create new parts and keep up with the market.
Unlike more traditional types of engineering and design, the process enables the production of automotive components far more quickly. The lengthy design process can be vastly shortened, with simply a click of the mouse to change part of the model.
This allows parts to get out onto the market far more quickly and also enables changes to be made with the minimum of fuss.
What are the Current Uses of Automotive Additive Manufacturing?
Different manufacturers might choose to use the available technology in different ways, but there are a number of different components which could be produced by this method.
Exhausts and emissions
Aluminium alloys are typically used for this application, via selective laser melting to create cooling vents.
Selective laser melting and electron beam melting are utilised with aluminium alloys. These techniques can be used to make pumps and valves within the fluid handling system.
Using selective laser sintering, polymers are currently used to manufacture wind breakers and bumpers.
Hot work steels and polymers can be used together with a variety of additive manufacturing processes such as selective laser sintering, selective laser melting and fused deposition modelling for prototypes, casting and customised tooling.
The above uses in the automotive industry are used from both small companies and large international conglomerates.
What are the Possible Future Uses?
Although the automotive industry has been quick to adopt additive manufacturing and to use it in a variety of applications, there’s far more possibilities which lie ahead, particularly with the use of different materials.
Here’s some of the new ways that automotive additive manufacturing is expected to be used in the very near future.
Interior and seating
Using polymers and the techniques of stereo-lithography and selective Laser sintering, dashboards and seat frames could be manufactured.
Tyres, wheels and suspension
Aluminium alloys and polymers can be manipulated with the aid of selective Laser sintering, selective laser melting and inkjet technology to create suspension springs, tyres and hubcaps.
Selective laser sintering can be used on polymers to manufacture a range of delicate components including parts which have to be embedded, such as sensors, and single part control panels.
Framework and doors
Selective laser melting can be used on metal compounds such as aluminium alloys to create body panels, including framework and doors.
Various functional parts of the engine can be made from metals such titanium and aluminium allows when techniques such as electron beam melting and selective Laser melting are used.
Various components could be made from either steel or aluminium alloys with either electron beam melting or selective Laser melting.
In short, the process has the potential to be used to create virtually every part within a vehicle, including both inert and functioning parts.
What Materials are Available?
The materials available for use with the additive manufacturing technology have played a major role in determining the ways in which the technology can be used.
However, by combining nanotechnology, it is hoped that an even greater range of materials, including metals, could be utilised in the automotive industry.
Using sintering combined with nanotechnology, metals such as steel alloys and titanium could achieve a far greater density with less distortion or shrinkage. Titanium in particular has qualities which are extremely desirable such as its simultaneous high strength and resistance against corrosion
In addition, when the nanoparticles are embedded within a material such as a polymer, the electrical conductivity is greatly enhanced.
Carbon fiber is another material which is proving to be hugely beneficial in the field of automotive additive manufacturing engineering. Lightweight yet extremely strong it is increasingly being chosen as the material for bumpers, car roofs and the frames for windshields.
Additive manufacturing is a technology which already has a firm footing within the automotive industry and is expected to continue to flourish.
The following additive manufacturing content may also be of interest in relation to this article:
- 3D metal printing an overview
- Additive manufacturing – a definition
- Additive manufacturing processes
- How does additive manufacturing work? and
- Practical applications and uses for additive manufacturing
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