The application scope of 3D printing technology is currently restricted to the production of extremely low volume parts and production tooling. This is mainly due to the high costs of the machinery and raw materials, slow printing speeds and reduced levels of software optimization. Therefore, with a drop in material and machine prices, advanced software integration and faster printing, 3D printing could potentially revolutionize automotive production, supply chain and the aftermarket.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, “Executive Analysis of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry,” finds that the technology will generate $4.3 billion from the automotive industry by 2025 and achieve deeper penetration in automotive production and the aftermarket. As a result, 3D printing could offer substantial savings to manufacturers, suppliers and even consumers.
“Even though cheaper raw materials and technological enhancements will boost the uptake of 3D printers, issues such as patent liability, product defects and patent infringement will persist,” said Viroop Narla, Frost & Sullivan mobility research analyst. “Furthermore, comprehensive training as well as expensive data and communications systems, will be required to maximize 3D printers’ operational efficiency, decrease data loss, minimize corruption and theft.”
Currently, new companies such as, Carbon3D, are developing novel 3D printing technologies and partnering with established companies like Ford, in order to achieve technological advancements and shrink development times. 3D printing technology will allow OEMs and suppliers to print at multiple locations, thereby diminishing waiting periods and overall costs. Ultimately, this technology will also enable users to design and print customized parts, in line with each customer’s requirements.
In 2015, 90 percent of 3-D printing applications in the automotive industry were for prototyping and 10 percent for production. However, there could be a turnaround in this ratio with a 40 percent fall in price difference of raw materials (plastics and polymers) used by conventional manufacturing and 3D printing, according to Frost & Sullivan.
“Innovative materials such as carbon fiber, metal powders and titanium are expected to radically improve the mechanical, chemical and thermal characteristics of printed products,” Narla said. “Additionally, machines with a focus on quality and better manufacturing processes will lower post-processing requirements by generating products with superior tolerances and surface finish details.”