3D printing in industry

3d printing is present in many areas of our lives. It is increasingly used in industry. The automotive industry is one of the areas that bases its constructions on 3D printing technology. It allows quick prototyping of new solutions and gives the opportunity to check their functionality at low cost. Parts made using 3D printers also help reduce the consumption of material needed to make them and reduce waste. The constructions obtained are lighter, however, they retain the strength of those produced by traditional methods. This means a reduction in production costs but above all has an impact on environmental protection, which is an important aspect in the modern world.

In the automotive industry, 3D printing is used to prototype parts, which allows for visual assessment of components and matching them to the body. Printed external parts, e.g. car bumpers, are used to carry out ergonomic and functional tests. 3D printing technology most often using the FDM method also produces prototype internal vehicle components, such as steering wheels and dashboards. The printing area also includes mounting tools that are designed for specific models. They are characterized by short lead times and less weight than those produced by traditional methods. Many automotive industry companies benefit from the benefits of spatial printing. One example is the Opel group, which developed special tools from 3D printing used to assemble some models of their cars. Among other things, about 40 printed assembly equipment is used to manufacture the Adam Rocks model. BMW is another company that uses additive methods in its production. Using this technology, water pump impellers are produced in racing M4 starting in the DTM series. Several hundred such aluminum parts were created and all passed the tests. Another concern of this group is the roof bracket for the BMW i8 Roadster. The optimized part supports the roof cover and effectively maintains minimal movement to prevent the cover from curling during the opening process. Thanks to the element made in 3D printing technology, its rigidity has increased tenfold compared to the traditional injection-molded version. The main methods in which tools and parts for cars are made using rapid manufacturing methods are SLS and SLM methods.

The first is based on the selective laser sintering of powders from various materials. The most commonly used are plastics such as polyamides or metals. Sintering in this method means combining powder particles by melting them. Sometimes, to achieve better strength and density of the model, this method necessitates infiltration of the remaining pores between powder particles. High power lasers are used to make models. This method is attractive due to the large range of materials available. Whereas SLM is based on the melting / remelting of materials with a laser beam. The most commonly used materials in this method are stainless steels and titanium and its alloys, but low-melting alloys can also be used. The SLM method does not create pores due to the full melting of the powder material through the laser beam. Models obtained from metal powders have strength similar to parts produced by traditional methods, which means that they can be assembled as fully durable elements of various types of equipment. The SLM method can produce parts that are expensive and difficult to make using traditional methods.

3D printing methods have not yet been used in mass production, however, their implementation in the industry may reduce pollution and waste that arise when using traditional methods. Prototyping car interiors to the individual expectations of customers can also have an impact on improving the comfort of use, and thus improving the well-being of a group of people professionally involved in transport.

Author: Katarzyna Schab

The article was prepared as part of the projects BLOOM i Avant-garde Initiative