Traverse City, Mich. — The auto industry could save billions of dollars on product development by embracing 3D printing to produce tooling — not parts — and using those tools for more than just prototype parts.
Early results of 3D printed tooling are promising, said Lonnie Love, corporate fellow and group leader at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, during a presentation July 31 at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
Engineers and scientists at the research facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., have produced tooling that can make a car hood, and aircraft maker Boeing is using a 3D printed tool that compression molds carbon fiber winglets for commercial airliners, Love said.
The project builds on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing — or BAAM — 3D machine built by Cincinnati Inc. In 2014, Oak Ridge and partners including Cincinnati and niche automaker Local Motors used BAAM to 3D print a car in just days. It then refined the process to 3D print a Shelby Cobra sports car.
"But printed cars is a million dollar industry," Love said. "Printed tools is a billion dollar industry."
The auto industry spends billions a year on tooling, which typically requires steel molds or dies that are time consuming to produce and expensive to obtain and maintain.
Love said a solution is 3D printing, which can yield dies and molds much faster.
In large compression molds used for wind turbine blades, for instance, additive manufacturing can produce a tool within weeks, rather than months, and at a fraction of the cost, he said.
"That's a game changer," he said.
For the Boeing 777, a mold for a winglet cost $15,000, and took just a week to make. A steel die would have cost six figures and taken months to produce, he said.
Oak Ridge produced a compression mold for Ford Motor Co., and is currently working with die maker Diversified Tooling of Madison Heights, Mich., to see how far the additive tooling can go.
"We're trying to show that this takes days, not weeks or months, and not hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Love. "We are at a pivotal time at U.S. manufacturing. We are on the cusp of great things. And we're bullish on where things are going. Additive manufacturing is going big, going fast and going inexpensively," he said.
The study is looking at plastic and metal additive manufacturing.
One area of 3D printed parts that needs work is the surface finish. But Love said that machining or coating can be used to create smoother, shinier surfaces.
Rhoda Miel, news editor of Plastics News, contributed to this report. Automotive News is a sister publication of Plastics News.