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Shane M. Fox By Shane M. Fox • January 21, 2018

3 Ways 3D Printing Will Change the Automotive Industry

The implementation of 3D printed design and manufacturing is going to be groundbreaking in almost any given industry. We explained this a bit in our blog posts about 3D printing's impact on the orthopedic and aerospace industries.

At the end of the day, what makes 3D printing an attractive tool to use is its iteration speed, production speed, and complexity of design. This is great and all, but what does this actually mean? How does this translate to tangible impact? In this post, will we explore the impact of 3D printing in the automotive industry, and what that looks like for manufacturers

Smaller Supply Chain

In the $400 billion market of spare parts manufacturing, 3D printing technology is making a statement. With 3D printers advancing to the point of being able to produce highly complex figures in almost any necessary material, it's the perfect time for figureheads in the automotive industry to surf the 3D printing wave. Given, the automotive giants like Ford, GM, and Toyota won't be printing entire cars anytime soon. They're leveraging the technology to print highly specialized parts that are typically too small, fragile, or expensive to transport.

One effective way to decrease overall costs is to have a small supply chain. The main challenge with shortening supply chains is specialization. Each company is especially skilled at making a particular part of a machine and can often do it cheaper. This is the main reason that Apple purchases their chips from Samsung, despite them being a competitor. 3D printing CAD designs of mechanical parts remove the need for specialization which allows institutions with a 3D printer to make (virtually) any tool they want.

Business owners care about one thing and that's the bottom line, so how does this affect to the bottom line?

Decreased Costs

The ability to print a series of specialized parts at their whim gives manufacturers a series of benefits: no risk of over-ordering parts, lower chance of defective tools, an increase in manufacturing speed, and overall decreased costs in the long-run. 3D printing helps reduce or nearly eliminate warehouse expense, machine maintenance costs, costs incurred from overstock, and manufacturing costs.

Rather than having to clear out warehouse space for small car parts, manufacturers could reduce warehouse expenses by simply printing parts out when they're needed. In the case that car parts need to be replaced every certain number of years due to wear and tear, a manufacturer could print out their own parts to maintain their own machines instead of purchasing them from 3rd party providers. Instead of potentially over-ordering spare parts in an attempt to match consumer demand projections, manufacturers could ultimately reduce the risk of overstock costs by printing their own.

If a manufacturer decided that they wanted to reduce their overall expenditure on spare parts, all they would need to do is either design or purchase the CAD design for the corresponding part and purchase the necessary 3D printer and materials (depending on the material and complexity of the parts being printed). Typically, this would include SLS (selective laser sintering), SLA (stereolithography), and DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) printers. From there on, manufacturers could create virtually any design they could ever need.

Increased Customization

Currently, manufacturing in the automotive industry is generally treated as a predictable and "one-size must fit all" space. This is primarily due to the lack of flexibility in design that manufacturers have while building cars that move along complicated supply chains. If a manufacturer ever wanted to customize a car or iterate on a design, it would take a long time and cost a lot of money, especially if the designs are made from scratch.

3D printing technology changes that by opening the door to creating detailed or aesthetically unique designs, hallowed structures, and hybrid materials, thus making cars lighter, more attractive, efficient, and personalized to a consumer's needs. This benefit also translates to the point-of-sale. With a wider variety of customized cars, salespeople can find cars that best fit a customer's needs.

It's no secret that 3D printing is changing dozens of different industries. Clearly, the automotive industry is no different. From decreasing the supply chain and reducing costs, to increasing customization, the way cars are assembled and built is changing at a rapid pace. Don't blink, because in 5 years, 3D printing could be the future of the automotive industry.