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How Rapid Tooling and 3D Printing are Improving the Automotive Industry

by Nice Rapid | Feb 27,2020 | Rapid Tooling

Rapid tooling and 3D printers have changed the outlook of the manufacturing business for the better in every single industry out there. In the first 20 years of the XXI century, 3D printers with industrial output can build larger products at incredible rates. The automotive industry was one of the first markets to take notice of these benefits, and they have working side by side with their teams to improve the creation of new parts for their products. All modern vehicles have at least ten to twenty components in their structure that have been created using rapid tooling. And the industry is just getting started testing the reach of this manufacturing method. 

tooling for the automotive industry

Rapid tooling and 3D Printing – The New Way to Build a Car

There is a broad misconception about modern vehicles that many people still believe: that they are all made of metal. This hasn’t been so for a while. The current trends of manufacturing have added more plastic resins and fiber carbon to a vehicle while taking away metal pieces or leaving them to build the machinery. Most vehicles are manufactured with CNC machines, and there is a lot of metal punching, stamping, and additive manufacturing going on. Still, the conversion of material it’s an ongoing procedure that is slowly overtaking the whole build of the structure of motorized vehicles.

A lot of companies are bent on making the first breakthrough in that front. Tesla is one of the early frontrunners with everything on its side to win the race. Some people believe that by 2021 the manufacturing industry could generate revenues well over $2.5 billion annually. If a company manages to make a vehicle using only Rapid tooling and 3D printing manufacturing methods, it could be a game-changer of high proportions for the market. On one side, you will have a vehicle that is built according to the size of the driver, and at half the time it takes to assemble one using traditional manufacturing. On the other hand, the industry would gain new insight into how to improve many things in their models, such as security features and the dynamics of the driving. 

The biggest challenge to overcome yet is the large number of parts that any vehicle has. Regardless of its size, most cars have way too many components that need to be assembled correctly to make the finished product a moving, functional vehicle. Top all of this with the fact that motorized vehicles have to deal with a long list of compliances from international regulators, and you will understand why so many procedures are needed to create every single stage of a model. You will find parts of the vehicle that call for thin walls. Other sections require curved surfaces and meshes. The internal machinery needs cooling and many more little details that cannot be overlooked.

Applications of Rapid Tooling and 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry

Putting aside the regular dealing of industrial manufacturing, there is a lot of uses for rapid tooling and 3D printing in the automotive industry, some of the most better-known applications are the ones listed below:

- Miniatures and Replicas

No, we are not talking about toys here (but they can be done with these manufacturing methods.) This stage of development it’s where miniature models of the vehicle are created to study placements as well as reproductions of the parts that make things work.

- Custom Tooling

A lot of companies use rapid tooling and 3D printing to create the kind of customized features that used to increase the bill of a brand new vehicle. A lot of cars use these manufacturing methods to handle decal and trimming. Many of these same companies also use stereolithography and fused deposition modeling since they can withstand the damage of the elements.

- Aftermarket Spare Parts

Companies that still have a lot of vintage models in the market are using rapid tooling and 3D printing to recreate the parts needed for spares and repairs of old, discontinued models. Volkswagen and Porsche are the two leading brands in the market to pursue such practices.

- Spare Parts for High-End Production

Rapid tooling and 3D printing are continually used to create high-end parts par specialized markets such as it happens with Tesla and other vehicles that have minimal production runs.

- A Full Vehicle

As we mentioned earlier, the industry is pressing for the creation of a brand new vehicle using additive manufacturing. Rapid tooling and 3D printing can recreate a small reproduction down to the bone. It’s not crazy to believe that a whole functional vehicle could become available at some point. Back in 2014, an American company named Local Motors tried for the first time with a medium level of success. The only issue that must be solved with these vehicles is fuel efficiency to offer excellent performance rates.

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