3-D printed cars

05.24.17

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3-D printing, is the process by which heat and pressure fuse together thermoplastics or powdered materials to create a three-dimensional object, reports CNBC. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, which remove material to reach a finished product, additive manufacturing builds an object layer by layer over time.

Additive manufacturing allows for more imaginative designs, more custom and creative products and, in already a few instances, cheaper manufacturing costs — and companies in several industries are taking notice. Including car companies.

"I have to believe that every automobile company has a serious eye toward it," said Lonnie Love, head of the manufacturing systems research group at Tennessee-based Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the largest U.S. Department of Energy lab.

By 2020 the global market for 3-D printing technology is expected to reach $9.6 billion. And the automotive market for 3-D printing is already worth $600 million.

Typically, the conversation around 3-D printing in the automotive industry centers on using it to develop prototypes of parts and new tooling methods. Volkswagen and Ford, for instance, use 3-D printing for prototyping to decrease design time.

When will actual 3-D-printed car parts make their way into consumer cars? Difficult to say. At Ford, which recently launched an additive manufacturing research division in Dearborn, Mich., there are still questions around the strength and durability of 3-D printed materials. Depending on the environment, the interior of a car can reach –40 degrees Fahrenheit in cold climates and hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on hot summer days. Thermoplastics commonly used in 3-D printing cannot withstand those temperatures. (Source: CNBC)


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