How 3D Printing Is Bringing New Life to Auto Brands

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3D printing car

Automotive applications of “additive manufacturing” are challenging for automakers because vehicles are not only complex but made of steel and other heavy materials, and the economies of scale that come from mass output are so crucial to the business.

The pioneer of automotive 3D printing—the Strati by Local Motors, produced in 2014 from an ABS carbon-fiber blend. Today, the company has three models and an autonomous electric-powered shuttle named Olli.

The 3D printing automotive market is projected to reach $2.3 billion in revenue by 2021. 3D printing is now making inroads with established car brands, including Ford, Volkswagen, and Team Penske, along with luxury brands.

Bugatti is using the technology to trim weight from the front brake calipers of its Chiron hypercar, a $2.9-million machine. The 3D-printing process can deposit layer after layer of titanium to produce calipers that weigh only about 6 pounds, down from nearly 11 pounds for the existing caliper made from aluminum alloys.

A weight savings of almost five pounds is huge in a car whose very expensive main attribute is to go fast. The 3D-printing method also allows engineers to produce prototypes very quickly.

“This is the largest functional component produced from titanium by additive manufacturing methods,” Frank Gotzke, Bugatti’s head of new technologies, told Ars Technica. “Everyone who looks at the part is surprised at how light it is—despite its large size. Technically, this is an extremely impressive brake caliper, and it also looks great.”

Porsche, meanwhile, has been using an additive-manufacturing process known as selective laser melting to tackle yet another challenge for makers of highly coveted automobiles: recreating old replacement parts. Porsche has turned to 3D printing to replicate eight different components that were unavailable, using metal alloys or plastics. It’s looking at another 20 out-of-stock parts for 3D-printing resuscitation.

3D printing is a natural for reproducing vintage car parts:

While Daimler is also 3D printing spare parts:

BMW was an early adopter of 3D scanning, preparing the resulting 3D CAD model for small series production, and selective laser sintering with polymer powder.

As often is the case these days, however, China may end up driving more widespread adoption of 3D printing in the auto industry, with reports that Italian company X Electrical Vehicle expects to launch a mass-market 3D-printed electric car there next year.

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