Oct 8, 2017 | By David

The automobile industry had a major presence at this year’s IN(3D)USTRY conference in Barcelona, with a broad range of vehicle manufacturers, parts suppliers and service providers getting together to discuss their use of 3D printing and hopefully matching up some needs with some solutions. One hotly anticipated automotive talk at the expo came courtesy of Norbert Martin Olivares, the Head of the DKM Models Department at local car manufacturing giant SEAT. He explained the various ways that the company was implementing 3D printing, in particular with its latest model, the SEAT Arona.

According to Olivares, additive manufacturing technology was used to bring about some serious improvements at three distinct phases of the production process of the new Arona vehicle range. 3D design technology and its capacity for direct integration into 3D printing techniques meant that the design phase of the production of the Arona was improved significantly with 3D printing. As is becoming the standard amongst many manufacturing sectors, in particular in the automotive industry, 3D printing technology was adopted to allow for rapid prototyping of new parts and components.

Finally, additive manufacturing was also used to create a whole new range of specialized assembly tools for the company’s production line. As innovation spreads throughout the manufacturing process, led by 3D printing technology, new components necessitate new methods of assembly. OIivares told the audience that the evolution of production line robotics in parallel with the evolving design of vehicle parts was an often overlooked part of his company’s 3D printing strategy.

The aspect of the production process most positively affected by 3D printing technology continues to be the speed with which it can produce complex and intricate shapes to a high level of detail. A virtual 3D design can be rendered in physical form in a very short amount of time, and this is revolutionizing the way SEAT and other manufacturers operate. Olivares claimed that over the course of ten years, the amount of time between the release of the SEAT Leon back in 2007 and this year’s Arona, several weeks have been shaved from total production time.

Production time is becoming more and more of an important factor in keeping car manufacturers competitive in the marketplace. Olivares said that over the last decade, consumer demand has increased exponentially and a new vehicle is now expected from a manufacturer at SEAT’s level every couple of years. Additive manufacturing technology is looking more and more like the only option that manufacturers have if they want to meet that demand.

As for the specifics of the new SEAT Arona itself, an unprecedented number of its final components and parts were made using 3D printing technology. At the front of the car, the fog light and wing mirror casings and grilles were all made using FDM techniques and high-performance thermoplastics. Also on the exterior of the vehicle, the sunroof, spoiler and windscreen wipers were all produced with 3D printing.

Inside the car, 3D printing technology was introduced on a trial basis for these interior components. One side of the interior was made using conventional injection molding, and the other was 3D printed. This allowed designers to compare the quality and finish of these parts, in order to decide which process was the best one to go for. In the end, almost half of the car’s interior was made using 3D printing technology.

SEAT is particularly well-placed to take advantage of 3D printing innovations, due to the strong additive manufacturing skills base that exists in the Catalonian region, although it is far from the only automotive manufacturer currently doing so. IN3DUSTRY hosted speakers from the FCA Group, which comprises Alfa Romeo, Jeep, and many other major international brands. Renault’s Head of Design Innovation and Advanced Technologies, Melanie Barriere, was also in attendance at the show, and she shed some light on the ways that 3D printing technology has been implemented under the hood of the French manufacturer’s latest vehicles.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer Company

 

 

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