During this month’s AM Focus Automotive, we are going to provide the most accurate scenario for automotive additive manufacturing in final part production. We will present an analysis of the latest progress made by each major automaker group and some of the key activities—either publicly disclosed or confirmed by reliable sources. After the first episode, where we took a look at Volkswagen additive manufacturing activities, now it’s time to visit GM. The next episodes will feature Ford, BWM, Daimler Benz, PSA, FCA and JLR.
General Motors additive manufacturing-related activities are conducted directly by GM in various locations around the world. GM is an early adopter of additive manufacturing and has been using industrial SLA and filament extrusion technologies for parts and tooling for over a decade. Today the core of GM’s AM research is the Warren Tech Center in Michigan, where over 30,000 prototypes are produced yearly.
The most relevant production application case was conducted by GM, in collaboration with Autodesk, in 2018, when the firms produced a generatively designed seat bracket. This component, which provides a steely, firm base for a car’s seats and seat belt buckles, requires about eight separate parts, purchased from several different automotive suppliers. The steel 3D printed bracket is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than the standard part. GM said that it expects that at most 100 parts have the potential to be cost-effective for production via AM.
Like Volkswagen and other major automotive manufacturers, GM is also now working with GKN on the industrialization of HP Metal Jet technology for part production, however, the American automaker is already conducting extensive work on the industrialization of metal PBF processes for automotive part production. 3dpbm can exclusively reveal that the company is working with Italian service provider Beam-IT for outsourced production of serial metal PBF parts using EOS technology (both SLS and DMLS). GM is also reportedly working with GE Additive on the industrialization of its metal laser PBF process for automotive parts (based on Concept Laser SLM technology).
General Motors is also implementing additive manufacturing to create tools used during automotive production, and to customize slick decorative elements for one-off buyers. An example is a tool used to align engine and transmission vehicle identification numbers, 3D printed at General Motors, which can cost less than $3 to make using a thermoplastic extrusion 3D printing technology. If outsourced, the part would have cost the plant $3,000. To date, the company’s Lansing Delta Township assembly plant has saved over $300,000 on that single tool.
One very interesting GM project for the future is the Uptis, a disruptive concept for an airless, 3D printed fully recyclable car tire, developed in partnership with Michelin. The Uptis punctureless tire prototype represents a major advancement toward achieving Michelin’s VISION concept, which was presented at the Movin’On Summit in 2017 as an illustration of Michelin’s strategy for research and development in sustainable mobility.
The VISION concept introduced four main pillars of innovation: airless, connected, 3D printed and 100% sustainable (entirely renewable or bio-sourced materials). These innovations combine to eliminate compressed air to support the vehicle’s load and result in extraordinary environmental savings: approximately 200 million tires worldwide are scrapped prematurely every year as a result of punctures, damage from road hazards or improper air pressure that causes uneven wear. There is no doubt that these advancements through the Uptis Prototype demonstrate Michelin’s and GM’s shared commitment to delivering safer, more sustainable mobility solutions. Considering that each year automobiles produce 246 million waste tires in the United States alone, this is a very welcome turn of events.