Automotive industry – possibilities of 3D printing

As in numerous other industries, 3D printing has become indispensable in the automotive industry. The areas of application are quite versatile, ranging from prototype production, the manufacture of individual parts or entire components to spare parts production. The latter can be done directly at the auto repair shop or even at the customer's site if the appropriate data records are available. In this article, you can find out about the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing in the automotive industry and where its use is particularly promising.

Which vehicle manufacturers are already using 3D printing technologies?

The process is used by many vehicle manufacturers and suppliers worldwide. Here in Germany, Volkswagen including Audi and MAN, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Opel and Ford, among others, rely on 3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing. Wielpütz, Adient and Vorwerk Autotec are among the most renowned suppliers to the automotive industry that also use 3D printing. BMW, for example, said in a press release that it has produced more than one million vehicle parts using 3D printing in the last 10 years.

3D printing has great potential, especially for the production of new types of vehicles, including electric vehicles and models powered by hydrogen or other renewable energy sources. After all, it not only helps to reduce weight, but also makes it possible to manufacture parts based on their geometry in a way that is difficult to achieve with conventional production processes. This can help the technology work even more efficiently.

Prototypes from the 3D printer

In the development phase of new vehicles, additive manufacturing makes it possible to produce parts for prototypes or even entire objects much faster than with conventional processes. At the same time, new components can be manufactured on demand and the changes visualized more quickly. Furthermore, the time and material savings also speak for themselves.

Spare parts production

3D printing is also becoming increasingly important in the production of spare parts. Spare parts only have to continue to be produced for a certain period of time after a production run has ended. For owners of young or classic cars, on the other hand, it is often difficult to obtain original spare parts. If the design data is approved by the manufacturers, these spare parts could be manufactured on demand either by the customer or by suppliers specializing in 3D printing. Some 3D printing enthusiasts and the technically savvy are certainly also able to design and print spare parts themselves with the help of 3D software. Example of the production of spare parts: Porsche Classic

Advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing in automotive engineering

The greatest advantage of this technology is certainly the ability to produce prototypes, components and spare parts on demand at any time and at any location – provided that the logistical prerequisites are in place. Warehousing costs can also be reduced as a result, since the items are manufactured on demand. The very measured use of material is also a positive feature, as the piece is manufactured “in one pour”. As a result, hardly any waste is generated.

However, the acquisition costs of 3D printers, which are still very high for industrial use, are a disadvantage. Too much time is often needed for the production of larger series. Sometimes, post-processing of the manufactured pieces is also necessary, so that the time savings are then – compared to conventional manufacturing – no longer so great. It should also be noted that many components in the automotive industry in particular have to withstand high continuous loads. Of course, this safety must also be guaranteed for 3D printed components.

There will certainly be further improvements in the use of 3D printers in the automotive industry in the coming years. We are looking forward to seeing what the future of automotive engineering will bring in terms of 3D printing.