Jan 21, 2016 | By Alec

Could 2016 be the year of the 3D printed car? As many readers doubtlessly know, Arizona-based Local Motors has been achieving successes left and right by pioneering their 3D printed cars and closely working with industry partners and scientists, and show no sign of slowing down. Their road-worthy LM3D Swim 3D printed car is expected to be released some time in 2016, while Airbus has just announced that they will be investing in Local Motors’ 3D printing techniques as well. And of course, on a more general note, the automobile industry is increasingly adopting 3D printing technology in their design and even manufacturing processes. All these signs have also caught the eye of consultancy agency Frost & Sullivan, who have just released a report predicting that 3D printing will generate $4.3 billion in the auto industry by 2025.

The report in question is called “Executive Analysis of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry”, and is quite optimistic about the future of 3D printing in the automotive industry. They see it as an innovative technology that will have impact in a number of sectors of the automotive industry, and especially in the aftermarket. “Innovative materials such as carbon fibre, metal powders and titanium are expected to radically improve the mechanical, chemical and thermal characteristics of printed products,” Frost & Sullivan research analyst Viroop Narlaa argues.

Of course, the technology is still in its infancy in many respects, but Narla is optimistic that design improvements will follow in quick succession and will enable 3D printers to produce the superior tolerances and surface finish details necessary for the automobile industry. That impact could be especially enormous in the aftermarket, the secondary auto industry that revolves around repairs, maintenance and retailing of cars after the initial purchase. However, 2025 is still far away, and this impact will depend on whether or not 3D printing will decrease in price and reach the mainstream, the report says.

The forthcoming LM3D Swim by Local Motors.

Taylor Moss, the Chief Operations Officer at estimating solutions provider Estify, further argued that 3D printing could pay big dividends in the collision repair industry especially. That seems quite logical, as that sector has a constant demand for numerous small parts, even for cars that are no longer manufactured. “Typically, repairs get held up most by the smallest and seemingly most insignificant parts, and the ability to 3D print those parts on site would work wonders for using actual OEM specification rivets, screws, clips, and retainers,” he says, though it will be necessary for the 3D printer to manufacture satisfactory material properties.

Moss further argued that 3D printing could significantly cut down repair times, and in turn shorten the number of rental days, cycle times and employee down time, making the whole repair process far more streamlined. What’s more, the technology could further reduce repair costs by 3D printing replacement parts on-site, while the likelihood of subsequent repairs is lower because all parts will be made to fit. OEM standard fitting and specifications can also be guaranteed.

Moss is thus very optimistic about what 3D printing can bring to the industry. “These are the fruits of 3D printing,” he argues. “I'm not sure that it is near, but there will likely be a day when you can print all the parts you need for a repair right on site. And what will that do for efficiency and cost when shipping is eliminated, the need to carry inventory for parts dealers is unnecessary, and the parts can be printed for use when the vehicle is ready for the parts?” While it will doubtlessly take some time before 3D printed cars become a common sight out on the road, the potential impact on the aftermarket sector definitely makes that number of $4.3 billion sound a lot more realistic.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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