The automobile industry serves as a constant in innovation. As a groundbreaking technology, quite literally, brought forth nearly 150 years ago, the inception of the first gasoline-powered car was met with great celebration on New Year’s Eve in 1879–rolled out by none other than Carl Benz himself, who had just received the patent. That momentum went on to propel the existence of 60 major car brands today, owned by 14 corporations, with many embracing technology like 3D printing for both prototyping and high-performing functional parts.
Automotive manufacturers in particular have put the spotlight on many novel materials and technologies over the decades. Tremendous transformation is underway in the automotive industry like never before though–opening up so many opportunities for 3D printing automotive parts–as progress spans everything from sustainability in electric cars to the artificial intelligence mechanisms capable of driving them for us. Appreciation for the motor vehicle is enhanced in outstanding, new and exciting ways for consumers; however, few techniques can parallel the unique power of 3D printing, and its ability to offer unlimited potential for auto manufacturers and buyers. 3D printing allows for new parts and processes, as well as incredible driver-specific customizations few could have ever imagined possible.
Advanced Materials and Technology for Additive Manufacturing in Automotive Industry
Automotive applications are predominant in 3D printing, mainly because the big players in the industry have had decades of experience in using the technology; in fact, both aerospace organizations and automotive companies were privy to the wonders of 3D printing over 30 years ago. Featuring automotive certification IATF-16949:2016, Shapeways continues to focus on supplying the automotive industry with the most advanced materials and technology in additive manufacturing–streamlining production from concept and design to delivery of high-performance parts.
Popular materials include:
- Aluminum – This metal 3D printing material is used to manufacture highly functional parts and prototypes, streamlining product development and enhancing performance. Shapeways offers AlSi10MG for applications like automotive parts, featuring a blend of aluminum, silicon and magnesium. Aluminum is strong and accurate, and is often used for parts requiring resistance to corrosion and high pressure.
Technology: Selective Laser Melting is a powder-based technology centered around metal 3D printing. Shapeways uses SLM 3D printing to melt fine metallic powder particles for 3D printing extremely precise parts, relying on powerful laser technology to heat the layers and fuse together. Find out more about Aluminum and SLS 3D printing here, as well as exploring the design guidelines further.
- Nylon 6 Mineral Filled (PA6MF) – This highly adaptable material is well-suited for rapid prototyping in automotive, as well as additive manufacturing of end-use products like engine parts and structural parts for vehicles, Allowing for the transition from metal or alloys to more adaptable polymers, PA6MF is used in highly industrial applications like automotive because of features like heat stability, impact resistance, and mineral-filled reinforcements with properties similar to Injection Molding.
Technology: Shapeways uses Selective Laser Sintering to 3D print PA6MF. As a powder-based technology, SLS 3D printing is one of the oldest–and also the most powerful–forms of AM technology. The process begins as powder is deposited onto the print bed, and a CO2 laser trases the design in the powder, in each layer. The heat from the laser fuses each 3D printing layer together until the desired structure is complete. Find out more about SLS 3D printing with PA6MF here, and explore the design guidelines further too.
- Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] – One of the most common thermoplastics used today, this material lives up to its name in every way, evidenced by overwhelming popularity with designers and engineers in a wide range of applications. For automotive, Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] is used in extensive prototyping, streamlining product development processes as parts are tested for form, fit, and function. Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] can also be used for a variety of end-use parts in 3D printing automotive parts. As an automotive 3D printing material, Nylon 12 is extremely useful in terms of high ductility, meaning that it can be flexible as needed for thinner structures, and more rigid for thicker structures.
Technology: Selective Laser Sintering is also relied on for 3D printing Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic]. As a powder-based technology, SLS 3D printing is one of the oldest–and also the most powerful–forms of AM technology. The process begins as powder is deposited onto the print bed, and a CO2 laser trases the design in the powder, in each layer. The heat from the laser fuses each 3D printing layer together until the desired structure is complete. Find out more about SLS 3D printing with Nylon 12 here, and explore the design guidelines further too.
- Polypropylene – Offering great versatility and adaptability for automotive applications, Polypropylene is recommended for rapid prototyping of complex geometries and production of end-use parts too, due to excellence in properties which are similar to Injection Molded parts. Polypropylene is also popular for additive manufacturing in automotive applications due to chemical resistance, low-moisture absorption, and long-term durability.
Technology: Shapeways uses Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) for 3D printing Polypropylene. MJF technology is also powder-based, but instead of laser heat, a detailing agent evaporates and cools the printing area, fusing layers together. MJF technology is recommended for automotive additive manufacturing runs requiring huge output in production. Find out more about MJF 3D printing for automotive applications with Polypropylene here, and explore the design guidelines too.
- Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) – This material is commonly used in 3D printing automotive parts due to benefits like superior tensile strength and high elongation at break due to its elasticity. TPU exhibits great load-bearing capacity, further strengthened by resistance to all of the following: chemicals, oil and grease, harsh weather, heat, and abrasion.
Technology: Selective Laser Sintering is also relied on for 3D printing TPU in the automotive market. Find out more about SLS 3D printing for automotive applications with TPU here, and explore the design guidelines further too.
Application of Rapid Prototyping in Automotive Industry and 3D Printing Spare Automotive Parts
Manufacturers have been enjoying the rewards of rapid prototyping in additive manufacturing automotive applications for decades, with innovation extending to race cars and motorcycles too for better speed and quality; for example, parts can be 3D printed with materials like Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] and then tested extensively. Components may then be produced in the same material via 3D printing too, depending on the part requirements. Spare parts may also be designed or existing parts may be scanned and then stored on digital files. This is extremely beneficial, as large inventories of parts do not have to be kept on-site physically. Further changing the face of how inventory is maintained are 3D printed parts which may have been considered obsolete. Automotive dealers may have given up on a part only to discover that they can scan an existing one, make tweaks to the design if necessary, and then bring it back to life via 3D printing.
It is feasible that a car can be entirely 3D printed, and there are companies around the world dedicating themselves to such efforts; however, the reality is that additive manufacturing often has a specialized role to play in customizing new parts that may not have been possible before at all due to the inability to produce complex geometries, or metal parts in any size range that were strong yet also lightweight to serve their purpose as functional, end-use products.
Enjoy the benefits of this advanced technology and a wide range of materials from Shapeways for 3D printing your creations with accuracy, complex detail, and no minimum or limits in terms of mass customization or single part orders. Shapeways has worked with over 1 million customers in 160 countries to 3D print over 21 million parts! Read about case studies, find out more about Shapeways additive manufacturing solutions, and get instant quotes.