One of those opportunities is looking beyond traditional manufacturing processes — or "old tech," as Eller referred to it — for making these automotive interior components.
That's where Carbon comes in.
The additive manufacturing company, which produces parts that are layerless and isotropic, is finding new opportunities for certain designs and geometries that can't be done via traditional manufacturing processes like injection molding.
The company has formed notable partnerships across industries, one of which is equipment maker Riddell for a 3D printed football helmet lattice liner.
Carbon's highest volume production application, thus far, has been the 3D printed soles on an Adidas sneaker. Last year, more than 160,000 pairs were made. This year, it'll be around 1 million pairs, with Carbon scaling up to produce tens of millions of pairs.
But the automotive industry, specifically, is "a very important market" for the company, said Paul DiLaura, Carbon's vice president of enterprise partnerships.
The company is producing end-use parts for certain models of the Ford Focus, F-150 Raptor and Mustang Shelby GT500. Carbon is also producing a 3D printed fuel cap and air duct component for Lamborghini's Urus super sport utility vehicle.
"All sorts of new possibilities, we think, emerge when some of the constraints of traditional manufacturing are removed," DiLaura said. "The shift to autonomous, the shift to electric vehicles, requires an entirely new concept around the architecture of the electrical system."
Many of these vehicles are going to be low volume at first, so traditional economics associated with tooling costs and long lead times for tooling can be restrictive and prevent adoption of these new technologies, he said. But additive manufacturing gives automakers and suppliers the ability to flexibly and quickly add components.
"Speed remains important," he said. "The ability to develop these new technologies quickly, the ability to get them out to market quickly, and additive manufacturing technologies can help enable that by shortening cycles associated with development and eliminating some of those tooling steps."
DiLaura said his company is seeing a "real thirst and interest" from the automotive sector in understanding and implementing technologies like 3D printing. A challenge, however, is finding the right application for production that brings the most value.
"That takes a real commitment from an organization's leadership to make it a priority and, ultimately, a vision of what it can be in the future."