This could be the year of the 3D-printed car.
Arizona-based Local Motors stunned the automotive industry by live-printing the world’s first 3D-printed car at SEMA last year. The company is now moving into intensive testing and development phases that will culminate with a road-ready, fully homologated series of cars built using direct digital manufacturing (DDM), of which 3D printing is a part. The road-worthy LM3D Swim is expected to be released some time in 2016.
The future of 3D printing in the automotive aftermarket is quite promising, according to a recent report by Frost & Sullivan. The report, Executive Analysis of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry, predicts 3D printing will generate $4.3 billion in the auto industry by 2025.
“Innovative materials such as carbon fibre, metal powders, and titanium are expected to radically improve the mechanical, chemical, and thermal characteristics of printed products,” states Frost & Sullivan research analyst Viroop Narla.
While the technology is still in its infancy in many respects, Narla says he expects design improvements will follow in quick succession and will enable 3D printers to produce the superior tolerances and surface finish details necessary for the automobile industry. That impact could be enormous in the aftermarket. However, this impact will depend on whether or not 3D printing will decrease in price and reach the mainstream, the report says.
3D printing could pay big dividends in the collision repair industry, as this sector has a constant demand for numerous small parts, often for cars that are no longer manufactured. Many repairs are held up by the smallest and seemingly most insignificant parts, and the ability to 3D-print those parts onsite would work wonders for using actual OEM specification rivets, screws, clips, and retainers, though it will be necessary for the 3D printer to manufacture satisfactory material properties.
The report says 3D printing could significantly cut down repair times, and in turn shorten the number of rental days, cycle times, and employee downtime, making the whole repair process far more streamlined. What’s more, the technology could further reduce repair costs by 3D-printing replacement parts onsite. The likelihood of subsequent repairs will also be lower, because all parts will be made to fit – OEM-standard fitting and specifications can be guaranteed.
All things considered, the day may not be that far off when a bodyshop will be able to print all the parts needed for a repair right onsite. Consider what that will do for efficiency and cost when shipping is eliminated, the need to carry inventory is unnecessary, and the parts can be printed for use when the vehicle is ready for the parts. While it will take some time before 3D-printed cars become a common sight, the potential impact on the aftermarket sector definitely makes that $4.3 billion sound realistic. nJN