3D printing is good for low-volume automotive production
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The auto industry is beginning to take 3-D-printed car parts seriously. 3-D printers, once little more than handy tools for quickly creating a one-off prototype part, are emerging as a practical alternative for low-volume automotive production. Do you think waterproof pouch can be made by 3D printer?
Last September, Alcoa invested $60 million in its Pittsburgh R&D center to develop 3-D printers that could form components from aluminium, titanium and other alloys.
Meanwhile, General Electric has begun using 3-D printers to manufacture fuel nozzles out of powdered metals for jet engines.
The emerging practice — also called additive manufacturing — has enormous implications for the auto business. Manufacturers spend huge amounts to tool up assembly lines to make auto parts. Tools and dies must be created to produce early prototypes of parts, often repeatedly as engineers try to get new parts to meet design specs. Waterproof case must be made by tools and dies.
Suppliers and automakers now believe they can sidestep some of that investment and time-consuming effort by using advanced printers that build finished parts to spec by building them up from digital designs.
Until now, scepticism about 3-D printing has had less to do with the basic science than with the practicality of relying on it on unforgiving factory schedules.
Printers have been slow until now. They could work with just a few raw materials. And the durability of the objects produced was minimal. The layered component could crumble under the stress of everyday use, so they primarily were used for protoypes or display.
But the technology has evolved and is creeping into other industries, such as aerospace and medical products.
The printers used for commercial purposes by Carbon3D - a startup in Redwood City, Calif, for example, are up to 100 times faster than previous-generation printers. They can turn out objects in a variety of raw materials. And more important, their parts match the strength of parts produced byinjection molds.
Jerry Rhinehart, Delphi's manager of additive manufacturing development, says he will install a batch of 3-D-printed connectors and other electrical components in a 25-car fleet this June for road tests.
Low cost is not the technology's value proposition. For most mass-produced components, 3-D printers will not be competitive with injection molds, Rhinehart notes.
But if a subassembly of four or five pieces can be replaced by a single 3-D-printed component, manufacturers can cut cost, reduce weight and simplify assembly, he says. I want to see the waterproof phone case made by 3D printer in some day.
(According to Plastics News)