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. 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.

Now the next and final phase of AM adoption is upon us, as AM radically alters supply chain and production dynamics, becoming the standard for tooling and enabling new possibilities in spare parts and obsolescence management. With the ultimate goal of introducing AM technologies to truly digitalize and further automate serial mass production. In particular, the now clearly 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 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, as high throughput AM technologies become more established for polymer materials and may now finally be within reach for metals as well.

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 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 2021, 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 very 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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