Apr 4, 2018 | By David

The automotive sector has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ongoing growth and improvement of 3D printing systems and the additive manufacturing industry over recent years. Many major car manufacturers are now using FDM technology as standard for rapid prototyping of all kinds of parts, from interior features to crucial engine components, and more advanced techniques like SLS 3D printing are increasingly being implemented for final phase production as well as concepts. At a recent automobile show in New York, Mini’s design head Oliver Heilmer discussed these developments and how the British stalwart’s design practices are being transformed by 3D printing.

(credit: GTSpirit)

One of the most recent offerings from Mini is the Mini John Cooper Works Concept, a stylish, motorsports-inspired iteration of the classic design. Following on from 2012’s Mini John Cooper Works GP and debuting towards the end of last year, many elements of the striking updated aesthetic of the car were enabled, or even inspired, by the availability of 3D printing technology.

“We can do things now as designers that we couldn’t do before we had 3D printing,” Heilmer said at the conference, as reported by thedrive. “(the) entire door panel is one piece, and when manufactured by 3D printing it’s much lighter. But we can also change the look and feel of it at any moment, even after the manufacturing starts, without having to create new tools to make it. Before this, it would take more than a year to make a change happen.”

(credit: Car Magazine)

Besides the doors, the centre wheel locks for the car were also produced using 3D printing technology, and there are various other 3D printed parts. One of the key benefits of implementing the technology is that directly manufacturing from a digital model enables much higher degrees of precision and complexity in terms of geometry than previously possible. This has great advantages in terms of functionality, as engineers can create the most effective structures to optimize performance or comfort.

Other major limitations that 3D printing technology can eliminate are the ones placed on design freedom by production capacity. In the past, when designing a component a designer would need to take into account not just geometries and materials but also the specific tooling methods available. What tools were used to produce the part would have a serious impact on its quality and even affect the possibility of making it, and this could often hold designers back. With 3D printing, almost anything that can be designed can be realized, and the range of material properties continues to expand.

As well as the renewed potential for designers and engineers, the open-source nature of 3D printing will also change the way that individual car owners relate to their car. The technology allows for a high level of personalization and customization, enabling users to be directly involved in the design process. On the Mini John Cooper Works Concept, the side scuttle (the design elements around the signal lights on the front fenders) can be customized with designs, patterns, colors, and configurations based on the owner’s preferences.

“There’s an emotional aspect behind 3D printing. It frees up the design to allow personal bonding with your car,” says Heilmer. “Maybe it’s basic white or gray, or a pattern or design, like a heart or paper airplane. It might be playful or serious.”



Posted in Rapid Prototyping



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