Automotive additive manufacturing has been embedded into the core of the auto industry in the form of rapid prototyping since the very first AM technologies appeared at the end of the 1980s. In fact, General Motors was one of the four companies to install the very first 3D printer ever created, the SLA-1 from 3D Systems, in 1987. AM has subsequently gradually entered new areas of the automobile industry, such as motorsports and luxury limited editions, to then open new possibilities in terms of mass customization.

The next and final phase of automotive additive manufacturing adoption is now seeing AM radically alter supply chain and production dynamics, becoming the standard for tooling and enabling new possibilities in spare parts and obsolescence management. The ultimate goal is the introduction of AM technologies to digitalize and further automate serial mass production. In particular, the unstoppable EV revolution stands to both benefit and further drive adoption of AM, as weight optimization and integrated subassemblies become a key requirement to extend mileage and reduce energy consumption within increasingly “solid-state” vehicles.

As one of the first major consumer product industries to do so, the implications and the potential for this paradigm shift are extremely significant for both AM and the global manufacturing industry as a whole. The implications of automotive additive manufacturing extend to all industries linked to parts production, from raw materials to global distribution. The prospects, given the sheer scale of the global automotive market, are incredibly important for the development of automotive additive manufacturing technology. As high throughput AM technologies such as thermal powder bed fusion (MJF, HSS, SAF) and high-speed photopolymerization (DLS, cDLM, etc.) continue to become more established, this year we may finally see an escalation of metal AM adoption within automotive.

The production requirements of the automotive segment—and its subsegments—are unique, and strictly tied to both the underlying characteristics of the automotive segment (high productivity requirements, lower cost of materials, high automation of production), its changing trends (demand, regulations, scale economics, geopolitical situations, supply chain dynamics) and macro trends (propulsion systems, mass customization, smart mobility, connectivity and digitalization).

Most manufacturers of 3D printing technology have established strong ties and experience developing and selling solutions to the auto industry. The reality, however, is that the additive manufacturing industry at large is still only just waking up to the challenges associated with vertically integrated manufacturing solutions.

The next phase of innovation, adoption, and industrialization of automotive additive manufacturing passes through the scaling up of final parts production. In order for AM technologies to complete the necessary transition, several steps will need to be taken. These include continued investments in technology R&D from major stakeholders in both the AM and in the automotive industries; increased AM integration in the end-to-end manufacturing workflow to reduce costs and increase speeds, as well as the continued development of DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing) optimizations. With new machines such as SLM Solutions’ 12-laser NXG 600 system, Desktop Metal’s Production Systems, GE Additive’s H2, HP’s MetalJet and ExOne’s X1 160Pro targeted specifically at this market segment and arriving into the market this year, 2021 is already shaping up the most critical period for this next phase of AM’s growth.

In this first AM Focus of 2022, in partnership with some of the most important automotive and AM industry stakeholders, we build upon our previous 2020 focus on Automotive AM to continue to shed light on the latest developments for automotive additive manufacturing in terms of hardware technologies, material science and production automation, presenting an additional analysis of how AM is enabling the EV revolution.

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    Always ready to experiment with new design, manufacturing and marketing possibilities, Automobili Lamborghini has entered the world of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) with an artwork accessible via the Lamborghini Space Key. This exclusive project, developed with a still-undisclosed artist, combines many of the most advanced technologies, including 3D printing. The distinguishing…

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    Remember the LSEV? The largely 3D printed EV from a mysterious company called XEV? We first reported on this project back in 2018, when some overly hyped-up stories announced the car was ready for mass production. Back then we were at least able to confirm the project was real and…

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    Conflux Technology, an Australian studio developing some of the most advanced additively manufactured heat exchanger designs, will be producing a new set of 3D printed heat exchangers in partnership with Dallara, Italy. Besides developing its own hypercars, Dallara is a contract builder for just about every motorsport category across the…

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    Olli 2.0, the autonomous electric vehicle from the ground sustainable mobility company Local Motors, now includes 3D printed parts manufactured by CRP Technology using Windform composite materials. The Modena-based company, which has been leading in professional 3D printing with Windform composite materials since 1996, was contacted by the EMEA management…

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  • SLM Solutions and MAHLE strengthen their cooperation in automotive

    SLM Solutions has started a cooperation with MAHLE, one of the leading automotive suppliers and development partners from Stuttgart, Germany. MAHLE will utilize SLM Solution’s systems to empower OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to fulfill their need for metal Additive Manufacturing in serial production. By joining forces, the two companies…

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  • Czech carmaker ŠKODA receives award for internal 3D printer farm

    ŠKODA AUTO revealed it is now employing 3D printing for the production of components, spare parts and tools. The Czech car manufacturer is making its production and logistics more flexible and efficient by using a 3D print farm based on systems from local material extrusion 3D printer manufacturer Prusa, founded…

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  • Watch a 3D printed brake caliper being put to the test

    Sparks flew as Bugatti tested its generatively designed 3D printed brake caliper, additively manufactured with SLM Solutions technology. Volumetrically this part is the largest functional titanium component built with SLM technology. The 3D printed metal part can cope with extreme strength, stiffness and temperature requirements at customers’ required high speeds.…

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    Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM) received a $7.9 million order for binder jet additive manufacturing systems from a major German carmaker for the mass production of metal automotive powertrain components at scale. Considering the BMW was (and is) among Desktop Metal’s first investors via its BMW i Ventures, that Volkswagen is…

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    When it was first presented, the MIT Self Assembly Lab’s liquid-in-liquid 3D printing process received an enormous amount of press coverage and visibility. I have to admit that we were skeptical about it. Then BMW started to play with it and demonstrated that Rapid Liquid Printing technology held great promise…

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