Recent regulations and incentives have encouraged auto makers to expand their electric vehicle offerings, and have opened up an exciting path for new manufacturers. With forward-thinking and innovation at the forefront, manufacturers are looking to expedite their time-to-market. This is where 3D printing shines.
If you’ve read our blog before, you’ve likely seen the 3D printing highlights: fast turnaround times, keeping IP in-house, and a solid ROI. But even in an innovative space, where staying competitive is key, something that is viewed as a “new technology” can be nerve wracking.
Here’s the key — 3D printing is not new. Stratasys has a proven history of backing the buzzwords, with case studies from Polaris, McLaren Racing, and Volvo to match. Some of the ways we have helped OEMS include 3D printing prototypes, jigs and fixtures, alignment tools, surrogate parts for robotic programming, and customized parts for specialty vehicles.
As Dominic Saigh the Global Automotive Account Executive at Stratasys told me, “Many of our automotive customers were looking at 3D printing as just rapid prototyping, but it is so much more than that. 3D printing is not what it was 15 years ago when we used it just for prototypes. We’ve innovated enough to the point where it is a crucial piece of the manufacturing process.”
At Purple Platypus and Stratasys, we look at the way we can help our automotive customers, and other customers as a whole, in three main areas: product development, production support, and production.
Product Development encompasses early concept models, functional prototypes, and final prototypes. Utilizing 3D printing enables designers to test multiple design iterations before selecting a final design.
One of my favorite examples of this is the gear shifter knob — using a blend of an elastomeric material and Vero, the hand grip on the knob feels exactly like leather. The main body of the handle was printed using multiple materials and post-processed with high gloss to get a luxurious, wooden finish.
A newer example comes in the form of the J850 TechStyle printer. At this year’s Milan Design Week, Maserati unveiled their first electric car, the GranTurismo Folgore. The seats featured a beautiful, light-filled design that was directly 3D printed on ECONYL material.
Like Dominic said, 3D printing is being used for so much more than product development. Production support is key to a manufacturing line and tooling engineers.
3D printing custom jigs, fixtures, and manufacturing tools, that have historically been made from steel and aluminum, can lessen cost and weight. Tools can be more ergonomic and easier for assembly line workers to use, and lighter weight tools can lessen the load on robotics, leading to less stress and longer life of automation systems.
Plus, the turnaround time from tool design to having an operational tool in hand is much quicker when 3D printing versus working with a machine shop to build bulky, solid tools.
3D printing production parts is becoming more common as more printing technologies and more materials become available for end use, production parts. Additive manufacturing can be used as a bridge to production and low to mid volume production.
Printing end-use parts is also perfect for vehicle customization, early concept cars, and for more historic, classic cars where parts are no longer being produced and are unavailable.
3D printing is no longer a future technology that is still being developed to be used one day. As Dominic pointed out, “Our automotive customers are using additive to lower tooling cost, speed up lead times and get products to market faster.”
And that is why I get so excited about helping our automotive customers with their 3D printing goals.
Meet Geoff Varga
As a Sales Engineer for both Purple Platypus and Purple Porcupine, Geoff helps our Arizona customers find the right additive solution for their needs. Geoff’s favorite thing about working at Purple is that he gets to learn something new every day and he is able to help our clients develop innovative products that change the world.
Out of the office, Geoff enjoys volunteering in the community and spending time with his family. If you haven’t had the chance to meet Geoff, be sure to connect with him on LinkedIn!