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.

Additive manufacturing 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.

Here’s a closer look at additive manufacturing and its processes and how they’re used to great effect in the automotive industry.

 

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Why it's 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, automotive additive manufacturing enables the production of 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.

Example of automotive additive manufacturing

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.

Fluid handling

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.

Exterior

Using selective laser sintering, polymers are currently used to manufacture wind breakers and bumpers.

Manufacturing process

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 for additive manufacturing are currently in use in the automotive industry, from both small companies and large international conglomerates.

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.

Electronics

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.

Engine components

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.

OEM components

Various components could be made from either steel or aluminium alloys with either electron beam melting or selective Laser melting.

In short, the additive manufacturing processes have the potential to be used to create virtually every part within a vehicle, including both inert and functioning parts.

Materials

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 with additive manufacturing, 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

 

Titanium is a popular metal for use in the automotive industry

Titanium is a popular metal for use in the automotive industry

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.

 

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