Since significantly expanding its 3D printing capacity – by installing 17 production-grade Stratasys systems – at the end of 2019, automotive giant GM has transformed many of its production lines, leveraging the technology for faster and most efficient tooling and more. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology has come particularly in handy, helping the company to transition towards the production of ventilators.
In 1989, when GM first started using 3D printing as an automotive prototyping technology, the company could never have predicted it would be using it 30 years later to produce critical medical equipment for use in a pandemic. But today, that is exactly where we are. In April, GM entered into a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deliver 30,000 critical care ventilators by the end of August in partnership with Ventec Life Systems.
As part of this initiative to combat COVID-19, the company reverse engineered part data for tooling fixtures from the original ventilator manufacturer. By using 3D printing as the manufacturing technique, production of these tools was able to begin within a day. Notably, GM says all the tooling for the critical care ventilators was 3D printed using its in-house Stratasys FDM systems as well as with additional production support from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. This dual approach has enabled the company to operate at a high utilization rate for its existing systems.
“With the pace of change in modern industry accelerating and business uncertainty increasing, 3D printing technology is helping us meet these challenges and become more nimble as a company,” said GM’s director of additive manufacturing, Ron Daul. “We’ve been on this journey for more than 30 years, but 3D printing is becoming even more widespread at our company, with more than 700 employees now trained to use the technology. Additive manufacturing is consistently providing us more rapid and efficient product development, tooling and assembly aids, with even more benefits to come.”
“GM is making the smart investments in 3D printing to succeed in this new normal of uncertainty and disruption,” added Stratasys Americas President Rich Garrity. “As a result, GM has manufacturing lines that are more adaptable and less expensive, and products that are developed faster and better. They are a clear model for the future of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry.”
Beyond using 3D printing in this emergency situation, GM uses the technology at production facilities around the globe to improve product development and facilitate agile tooling. For instance, the company 3D printed 75% of the parts in its 2020 Chevrolet Corvette prototype.