At the 2017 Grand Prix, race cars were made out of something new:
3D printed parts! McLaren Racing Formula 1 team 3D printed components for its race car with the goal of accelerating design iterations and weight reduction for performance enhancements. They printed a Hydraulic Line structural bracket in just four hours as compared to the two weeks that is needed while using traditional processes. Going a step further, they used AI tools to constantly monitor performance and stream that to the cloud to be able to process it in real time. Using those insights they could make improvements and 3D print it at the racetrack itself for immediate evaluation. This is small-scale Industry 4.0 at work!
Industry 4.0 focuses on automated factories, increased use of robotics, AI and digitized manufacturing. Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology is an indispensable component of this revolution. Recently, there have been a spurt of news of huge investments in Additive Manufacturing, especially metal parts. The adoption is now spreading from aerospace and medical space to the automotive space. It would be interesting to explore how its adoption is transforming the auto sector.
AM disruption in automotive Industry
Additive Manufacturing technologies, commonly known as 3D printing are known to produce intricate and complex parts. This is an established practice for rapid prototyping in the early design phase, using polymer materials. With recent advances in printing technology, especially in metal AM, there is a strong case for its adoption in the product development cycles. The Auto Industry initiatives in the area of creating cleaner, lighter, and safer products; with shorter lead times; and lower costs make a compelling case for Additive Manufacturing.
Innovation and Lightweighting: Sports auto segment has been an early adopter of this. It is extensively utilizing Additive Manufacturing in their design iterations for exploring the most efficient design in the shortest possible time. All automakers are constantly seeking ways to lightweight to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles to meet fuel standards and to also deliver greater value to the end users. “Light Rider”, is the world’s lightest motorcycle prototype of mere 35 Kg from APWorks, with its skeletal mainframes designed using optimization algorithms.
Part consolidation and lead time reduction: AM is not limited by part complexity. One can easily manufacture a complex single part which, by conventional process, requires multiple parts to be made separately and assembled later via bolts, rivets, welding etc. More parts lead to increased delivery times and higher probability of later product issues due to defective assembly. One of the leading auto OEM’s used AM to make diesel pumps in one single piece, drastically reducing part count, production costs and curtailed leakage issues.
Eliminating tooling costs: AM can be used to directly create final components and completely eliminate the need for tooling. It drastically reduces the lead times and capital costs involved with tool preparation. Ford used AM in product development of components such as an engine manifold to eliminate the need for tooling, thereby reducing costs from about $500,000 to $3,000 and time from 4 months to 4 days. This is a huge improvement!Supply chain transformation: An important effect of AM is shortening and simplifying the enormous automotive supply chains that are currently under operation. Using AM, maintenance and repairs of automobile parts can be done in an on-demand basis and in an entirely novel way using AM technologies.
More and more auto suppliers are now realizing AM as complementing the current processes like casting and forging and to provide best outcomes, and not as a threat to replace them. However, AM technology still has a long way to go to reach the maturity and confidence level of conventional processes. Especially metal AM has some peculiar challenges that need to be overcome before it becomes common place.
(This Article has been written by Anil Kumar, Senior Engineer- ACE, ANSYS Inc)
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