Exploring additive manufacturing in vehicle component prototyping

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Businesses today are constantly striving to be more cost-efficient. In automotive, this is especially true in the context of research and development. During the prototyping stage large quantities of wasted materials can be created, capital can be wasted on inventory, and time can be spent waiting on the delivery of specific components.

Throughout the next several months, ATA will be working in collaboration with the University of Waterloo (UW) MSAM (Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Laboratory) to deepen their understanding of the plausibility for 3D-printed oil pump housings that meet industry standards and answer the questions that currently revolve around the durability and performance of 3D-printed automotive components.

They have begun with two questions: are automotive companies researching and testing additive manufacturing? If so, what steps are they taking to implement this into their projects going forward?

UW’s Lisa Brock, a student in Additive Manufacturing Product Design and Validation MSAM in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, noted several industry-leading companies that are currently conducting case studies and even implementing additive manufacturing in their portfolios.

“GE Aviation has printed a lightweight turboprop engine using additive manufacturing, consolidating 855 parts to only a dozen components,” says Brock. This means the new bill of materials is just over 1% of what it was before 3D printing. In fact, GE Aviation currently mass produces a 3D-printed nozzle tip for use in its Leap jet engine.

Additive manufacturing has extended to automotive, too, as Brock says, “Companies including BMW, GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and various motorsport companies have been known to use additive manufacturing in a variety of applications.”

Brock references components including exhaust manifolds, pump components, molds and cores. General Motors has published videos demonstrating how they are using additive manufacturing within their pre-production process. GM is currently operating more than 16 SLA and SLS machines to produce more than 20,000 printed parts yearly. Another example is how Honda’s racing department managed to reduce its time testing for an extremely time sensitive project by four weeks using a 3D printer (ProJet 3000 CPX).

Next, ATA and UW wanted to know what the greatest benefits were going to be for late adopters when/if they choose to introduce additive manufacturing to their R&D and/or production process. Brock says that the integration of additive manufacturing can provide design freedoms that traditional manufacturing methods cannot provide.

“This includes the ability to pivot from concept to prototype quickly and easily, as the shorter lead time results in accelerated design cycles,” says Brock.

“Additive manufacturing is well-suited for the manufacturing of internal features, passageways, and organic or complex geometries, therefore enabling specialized designs with a reduced weight and potentially enhanced performance.”

Exploring additive manufacturing in vehicle component prototyping

As referenced before, the additive manufacturing of a component may also result in less waste than traditional manufacturing methods. Brock says that this is due to the part being built up layer-by-layer rather than being machined out of a larger block of material (which is also less cost efficient).

So why has the appeal of 3D printing grown in the last few years? Brock believes, “In more recent years, additive manufacturing has been viewed as a mature enough technology for industrial uses beyond just research and development.”

Even though there is still a lot of room for development in terms of machine advancement, material capabilities, and process optimization, modern 3D printing technologies are thought to be able to meet industrial manufacturing standards.

“As a result, two questions emerge,” Brocks comments. “What can be done with additive manufacturing, and what should be done?”

This question arises because the feasibility of the process and overall advancement of the product needs to be prioritized.

What about the durability of 3D-printed components? ATA is interested in a familiar example: the oil and water pump housing. Pumps can undergo extreme temperature fluctuations and can be operating at full capacity for hours on end. This is especially true with the introduction of electric vehicles, where the duty cycles are expected to go up.

These are precisely the answers that ATA and UW hope to uncover. What will the outcome be? Is it feasible to introduce additive manufacturing into the pump R&D space? Can 3D printing be applied within a production flow? The answers to these questions will hopefully become clearer over the coming months, so stay tuned.

Written by Anthony Khoraych, president of ATA


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