Recently the automotive industry is facing some tough times. The global economic crisis, the rise of emerging markets such as China and India, have resulted in financial pressures from higher raw material prices which has forced the industry to look for innovation. As a critical component of economic growth and national and regional employment of every industrialized country, the automotive market is obliged to find a better response to the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. The automotive industry has still the chance to be back at the forefront of macroeconomic growth and stability, only if manufacturers and supply chain participants understand the need to grow and change smartly. Technological advancement will benefit production; alter traditional supply chain pathways and lead to the industry’s evolution. Newer designs, shorter lead times and lower cost are only some of the advantages of additive manufacturing. This new manufacturing technology based on 3D printing is about to revolutionize the entire manufacturing world and is probably the only chance for the automotive industry to rise up again.
What Is Metal 3D Printing?
While the adoption of additive manufacturing from the automotive industry is still in its infancy with only few users compare to conventional methods, the 3D printing market has enormously developed and diversified in terms of techniques and materials. Metal 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique that includes processes such as selective laser melting (SLM) where fine metallic powders are fused together to create three-dimensional metal parts.
In general, selective laser melting uses 3D CAD data and combines powder material and laser power on a layer by layer basis. The metal 3D printing process starts by slicing the 3D CAD file into layers and transforming it into an stl file that contains all important parameters. After a thin layer of metallic powder has been applied on a powder bed, a laser is used to melt the powder at the required locations until the size of the requested component is reached. The result is an industrial part of greater tensile strength and hardness with a density reaching 100%. No wonder that many automotive engineers use selective laser melting for creating functional prototypes for pre-series testing, but also try to incorporate it more and more in the real manufacturing process.
How Does the Automotive Industry Benefit from Selective Laser Melting?
New Shapes and Structures
Additive manufacturing gives great freedom in design. Metal 3D printing can produce highly customized parts with added improved functionalities that are not possible through traditional processes. Furthermore, the selective laser melting in particular allows the manufacturing of components with hollows and undercuts, with thin walls and hidden voids. This flexibility cannot be achieved through conventional manufacturing methods.
New Combination of Materials
Selective laser melting of different types of alloys suits perfectly the needs of lightweight applications involving vehicle and engine technology. Mixing different raw materials as titanium, aluminium, stainless steel or nickel based alloys and constantly discovering new alloys with various strength and temperature resistance is close to impossible trough conventional manufacturing methods.
Selective laser melting and also any other additive manufacturing technique doesn’t require any additional tooling. Therefore expensive sand-casting and die-casting applications can be finally replaced. This doesn’t only shorten development times, but also considerably reduces development costs. Industrial 3D printers can finish a component within hours compared to classical manufacturing techniques that will need days till weeks from prototype to end product.
Furthermore, selective laser melting creates parts using less energy and reducing material waste to a minimum. Less waste means significant cost savings and lower impact on the environment. Additive Manufacturing provides revolutionary possibilities for the automotive industry in creating faster, safer and lighter vehicles of the future.
Writer Bio: I am a technical content writer, interested in forging and casting techniques, latest machinery and tools; curious about new manufacturing methods; respecting high-quality engineering; discovering, observing and admiring the additive manufacturing industry. Follow me on Google+.