Troy, Mich. — Automakers are not short on success stories for their use of additive manufacturing in automotive applications, but several hurdles remain when it comes to further accelerating the adoption of the technology.
Volkswagen AG, General Motors Co. and BMW AG, for example, all have a "rich history" of using additive manufacturing to produce spare parts, tooling and other low-volume components, according to Ford Motor Co.'s Ellen Lee. But automotive has specific needs in terms of scale, cost and materials that differ from other industries, such as aerospace and medical, that are also utilizing the technology.
Last year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Lee outlined the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker's early achievements with 3D printing, too. With technology from Carbon, a digital manufacturing startup in the Silicon Valley area, Ford is designing and producing 3D printed end-use parts on three production vehicles.
"At the time, I mentioned how excited I was because we were really at a tipping point," Lee recalled during a Jan. 14 industry briefing seminar organized by the Center for Automotive Research.
"In the years since, I think my colleagues in the automotive industry have really delivered," she said. "We've seen so many examples from virtually every single major automotive manufacturer, showing examples and innovative use cases of additive manufacturing across the board."
Common uses for 3D printing in the automotive industry have typically leaned on manufacturing aids such as jigs and fixtures, efforts to increase customization and personalization, spare parts, and low-volume, high-end vehicle applications.
Even with those efforts, the automotive industry is still at the nascent stages in using additive manufacturing for scale production, Lee said.