Automotive additive manufacturing, already embedded into the core of the auto industry, has now entered into the new and exciting areas of automobile supply and manufacturing chains. As the first major consumer product industry 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 extend to all industries linked to manufacturing, such as material production, and product distribution.

The prospects, given the sheer scale of the global auto market, are incredibly important for the development of automotive additive manufacturing technology and are therefore quite exciting.

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 only just waking up to the challenges associated with vertically integrated manufacturing solutions.

Still, a growing number of companies selling 3D printers do so with a focus on the future potential of printing in the auto world. Advancing the now standard practice of iterating automobile designs with 3D printers into new areas such as printed assembly and manufacturing tools, functional parts for test vehicles, unique high-performance components for racing applications, and more have been ongoing for nearly ten years.

The next phase of innovation, adoption and industrialization of AM for automotive passes through 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.

In this first AM Focus of 2020, in partnership with some of the most important automotive and AM industry stakeholders, we are going to shed some light on the very latest development for automotive additive manufacturing.

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