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3D printers creating car factories of the future

By Tim Sandle     Jul 24, 2017 in Technology
The future for many industries is the 3D printer and the future factory will be composed of several industrial-sized printers. The car and automotive sector is one area likely to be affected. We survey the technologies.
One industrial area being revolutionized by 3D printing is the automotive sector. The application of the technology to the automotive sector remains relatively new. It was only back in 2014 that Local Motors printed the first 3D-printed car from an ABS carbon-fiber blend (about 80/20 respectively). The car was called Strati. This was followed in 2016 when Honda released a new version of its Micro-Commuter car. Other car manufactures have followed, not necessarily printing entire cars but key components. The main drivers are consistency, reliability and a consistent reduction in lead-time.
A new report, titled "Global 3D Printing Automotive Market Analysis & Trends - Industry Forecast to 2025" predicts a 10 percent growth in the use of 3D printers to create most of the parts that go towards making cars and lorries by 2025. There are different types of 3D printing technologies being taken up by the automotive sector. These include electron beam melting, fused disposition modeling, laminated object manufacturing, three dimensional inject printing, stereolithography, and selective laser sintering. These are complex sounding words, what do they mean?
Electron Beam Melting is a high technology form additive manufacturing which uses an electron beam instead of a laser or thermal printhead. The process is commonly used for the production of incredibly dense metal parts.
Fused disposition modeling is an additive manufacturing(AM) technology commonly used for modeling, prototyping, and production applications. With the process a plastic filament or metal wire is unwound from a coil and supplies material to produce a part.
Laminated object manufacturing involves layers of adhesive-coated paper, plastic, or metal laminates being successively glued together and cut to shape with a knife or laser cutter.
3D inject printing involves recreating a 3D digital image by propelling droplets of ink successively to a substrate.
Stereolithography is a process for creating three-dimensional objects, in which a computer-controlled moving laser beam is used to build up the required structure, layer by layer, from a liquid polymer that hardens on contact with laser light.
Selective laser sintering uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material, aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.
What is interesting about many of these applications of additive manufacturing to the automotive industry is that they are being used to create lower cost (and more affordable) personalized cars. Other manufacturers are using the digital technology to prototype, test, and produce all manner of tools, jigs, fixtures, and street-ready parts. While the technology still remains in its infancy for car manufacturers, the application of 3D printers is key to the digital transformation of the automobile sector.
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