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3D Printing is Changing Auto Manufacturing

3D printing in auto manufacturing is creating stronger and lighter vehicles.

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When people think about innovation in the design and manufacturing of cars, we are always thinking about futuristic possibilities. We begin to imagine cars that can fly, or drive themselves. But sometimes the innovation that we are seeing in auto manufacturing is not so obvious to the average customer.

Did you know that close to 50 percent of the steel that is used in modern vehicles did not even exist 15 years ago?

And now with the increasing popularity of 3D printing in auto manufacturing, we are reaching new heights when it comes to having stronger and lighter vehicles.

The year 2014 marked the first time a 3D printed car was created. Local Motors is responsible for that feat. The company 3D-printed a car using ABS carbon-filter blends, and called it Strati. There are three models of such vehicles now produced by the company, which shows how important 3D printing in auto manufacturing has become. But that does not mean we are heading for a future where cars are completely 3D printed.

It is not always financially or practically viable to print an entire consumer vehicle, when standard manufacturing can still do the job better and for a similar or lower cost.

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What intrigues many about 3D printing in auto manufacturing is how the technique can be used to print out parts and tools.

It is estimated that 3D printed prototypes make up around 15 or 20 percent of the prototypes that are created by the major car companies. And some have been doing this for years. Ford has a long history of using 3D printed prototypes, because it helped them reduce design time.

Now the company is joining the queue of car companies that want to use advanced 3D printing technologies as part of the manufacturing cycle. It is intriguing to see how this will play out.

Experts believe that by 2021, the 3D printing automotive market will be up to $2.3 billion in revenue. The current revenues are less than $500 million.

While 3D printing is not going to get cars printed out faster than manufacturing facilities, it does allow for the printing of different car parts that may be harder to manufacture at such a precise level. It will also help with innovation on new vehicles, because companies can now create prototypes and models for testing with greater frequency, flexibility and at a lesser cost than before.

The possibilities of 3D printing in auto manufacturing are limitless. While we may dream about buying cars that are completely printed, companies are hoping to cut costs, decrease production time and boost innovation.

3D printing helps immensely when a company is designing and producing custom parts for vehicles that are manufactured at a lower volume. It is also incredibly helpful for printing jigs and fixtures.

By printing out those jigs and fixtures, companies have tools that are lighter and more ergonomic, while cutting costs. The future of auto manufacturing most definitely includes 3D printing. It is just a matter of how each company will use this new feature to its advantage.


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