Jul 5, 2017 | By David

3D printing has been influencing the automotive industry for a while now, from fast prototyping of designs to mass production of engine parts, so it seems natural that the technology would eventually start to be implemented long after the initial manufacturing cycle—for automobile repair.

Industry-leading auto service and repair company Service King has been trialling 3D printed tabs to repair damaged bumper fascias, and initial experiments were successful enough to justify expanding the use of 3D printing technology to a number of different markets across the U.S.

Bumpers are, for obvious reasons, one of the car parts most frequently in need of repair by Service King’s customers. The problem Service King faced was that if more than 1 percent of a bumper was damaged after a scrape or a collision, the whole part became useless and had to be scrapped and replaced.

When OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) tabs tear off bumpers, they cannot be put back. Frustrated with wasting money and time on installing entirely new bumpers for damaged cars every time, the Service King technicians decided to give 3D printing technology a try, in order to 3D print replacement bumper tabs.

The idea was originally mooted by Service King Senior Director of Field Technology Dustin Harrier, and the significant drop in price and increased accessibility of 3D printing meant that this had become a viable option, where a couple of years ago it would have been prohibitively expensive.

After successfully 3D printing tabs to fix up bumpers that had already been scrapped, the technicians tried it out on a few customers’ cars, informing them of the new process that was being tested. This proved to be just as successful.

By checking the bumper labelling, a Service King employee can find out the substrate material initially used for a particular bumper fascia—whether it’s polypropylene, thermoplastic, or something else, and then make sure that this is the material used for the 3D print job. This ensures that the tab will fit properly and give the bumper a uniform strength.

Nitrogen plastic welding, staples, or epoxy urethane can be used to attach the replacement part.

Two different scenarios occur at Service King in which 3D printing technology is used. The first, most common scenario is where a customer’s vehicle has been in a collision which has led to some minor bumper damage. The company has large stores, or "tackle boxes," full of pre-printed bumper tabs to repair the damage. A technician can access these quickly, and they are generally 3D printed to be larger than the original tab they are replacing. This allows the technician to cut or shape them to be the required size to fit the bumper. 

With certain, less common kinds of damage to bumpers, the tab can also be 3D printed on-demand, with the manual plastic filament extruder developed specifically for the task by Service King.

Service King has filed patents for its pioneering use of 3D printing in automotive repair: one for the shapes of the oversized 3D printed spare tabs, one for the manual extruder, and one for the 3D printing software that the company has developed for the task. It also takes great care to not infringe on any OEM patents when it replaces tabs.

There are other legal restrictions in place that currently prevent the application of 3D printing in every bumper repair case that Service King encounters. For example, Nissan and Toyota have specifically forbidden repair companies to repair segments of their bumper fascias, as this could potentially affect the functioning of their vehicles’ advanced driver assistance systems, which are located behind the plastic cover.

According to Chief Technology Officer Derek Kramer, the company is currently in the ‘'ramp-up'’ phase of what he refers to as "adaptive plastic repair," as the implementation of 3D printing has been ‘’eye-opening” for technicians, managers, insurers and customers. 

While not every Service King chain will be purchasing a new 3D printer, which would be relatively costly, use of the technology has expanded to the Seattle, Phoenix and Denver markets. Kramer foresees a day when any technician will be able to access a file-sharing database of replacement tabs, 3D print one remotely, and get it shipped to the store within a day.

Service King itself wouldn’t even need to do the 3D printing, as it could be outsourced to a company such as UPS, which currently offers a combined 3D printing and shipping service to businesses in a local area.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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DensityDuck wrote at 7/12/2017 6:24:16 PM:

Almost as interesting as the use of 3D printing to enable repairs is that contractual requirements prevent this happening in some cases. An example of how, sometimes, the limitations on the best solution aren't technical at all...

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