There is no doubt that the automotive and transportation industry has made a significant transformation in technologies and innovation in the areas of propulsion systems. In fact, the transformation is broader than just the propulsion system, it is a change in the overall driving experience including autonomous or semi-autonomous driving as well as the associated vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) interactions that provide a significantly expanded customer experience and value potential. These have been driven by a series of consumer, business model, and regulatory shifts in the past decade. These shifts have been widespread and global, meaning that they are not incremental or niche markets that are appearing, they are impacting the fundamental nature of the automotive mobility space.
One of the first things we must understand is that a transformational change like this means that all aspects of the automotive development, production, delivery, and service business will be impacted. As with all transformations of this size and scope, those functions that embrace this change and look to capitalize on the opportunities created will thrive. A grave error would be viewing these as incremental activities and costs that must be added onto existing processes, creating additional overhead on an already competitive business with relatively thin margins. The service industry is often one of the last automotive business segments that are thought of regarding the industry transformation that is happening, however, in this case, it is arguably the segment that is the centerpiece of the transformation.
The automotive service industry happens to directly align with the portion of the automobile’s lifecycle that equates to the customer experience. Like all recent industry transformations related to new technologies and innovations, the consumer and the ecosystem are the levers to deliver value and drive additional growth. In recent industry transformations, the ability to deliver innovation after the initial point of sale is fundamental – driving the emergence of new audio/video media streaming ecosystems, creating shifts in aircraft engine business models from selling engines to selling flight time, to the emergence of ride-share and home rental marketplaces. These illustrations indicate how the automotive service industry is at the forefront of driving the electric vehicle and autonomous transformation happening in the mobility industry.
Drawing parallels to other transformations of this kind, there are certain characteristics that should be considered to effectively capitalize on the expanded value. The transformation in business models for industries that are leveraging a digital transformation includes some of the following characteristics.
- Crowd economies: More and more industries are seeing decentralized funding and in many cases decentralization of assets. Consider Airbnb and VRBO are now the largest hotel chains without actually owning real estate.
- Decentralized and Autonomous Organizations: Functions and activities that have traditionally been housed in the four walls of a single organization are now found in many interconnected activities given the ability to collaborate, share, and streamline connections.
- Transformation Economies: Markets are shifting from product- and service-based models to experience-based models. In this case, the shift is from buying a car to purchasing a mobility experience.
- Closed-loop Economies: The viewpoint of the experience is from cradle-to-cradle rather than cradle-to-grave where the expectation is for zero waste.
One of the key enabling technologies that provides an accelerator for these transformations is additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing. The technology has transformed since its inception in the 80s with the incorporation of many technologies (e.g., photopolymers, powder bed fusion, direct metal printing, etc.) as well as a broad range of materials, and a much simpler interface for ease of adoption. All of this has made 3D printing a viable solution to leverage, however many still look at it as just another production method that is “bolted on” to the existing business model and operation. The technology and approach are much more than just a way to characterize a production method (i.e., additive versus subtractive). AM enables a different paradigm with unique benefits:
- Tool-less production capability: Additive manufacturing is a process that inherently eliminates a major artifact and a major process in the production process – the tooling. The ability to directly produce a part from the digital representation not only makes the process more efficient but allows for the decentralization of the business model, quick adaption, and delivery for the customer experience, as well as achieving this with less manufacturing overhead and waste.
- Seamless digital innovation to physical part: The ability to connect directly from the design intent digital definition and go right to production allows service companies to address current and latent customer needs while the product and associated services are in use. This means that the customer experience is refined and redefined as needed to drive value, without the lag of spinning up new tooling and/or waiting for the next product revision to come through.
- Production grade materials: The recent advancement in materials has allowed 3D printing to move from a concept or rapid prototyping tool to a viable production and end-use solution. This means that we can leverage materials that are flexible, tough, rigid, clear, etc. while also being suitable for mobility environments including temperature extremes, UV exposure, and chemical exposure while doing this over the lifecycle of the vehicle.
- Solutions-based production platforms: A key aspect that contributes to additive manufacturing’s ability to transform the service value proposition is the barrier to adoption. As indicated, the technology has improved from a product and technology perspective in the recent past, now we are seeing advancements in a solutions/applications view that pulls all of the elements together including 3D printers, materials, build preparation, post-processing, etc. into the context of an automotive application from which a knowledge transfer can be achieved. This allows for a significant acceleration and broadening of additive adoption in the service industry.
These transformational innovations and advancements in additive manufacturing will be a key accelerator for electric vehicle, autonomous, and the next generation mobility experiences for the coming decades. This will extend far beyond just fixing existing solutions. Just as automotive customers are now used to getting automatic software feature updates in service, they will be looking to get physical solutions contributing to a new experience well after the traditional point of sale. As indicated previously, the service industry will be at the center of defining and redefining the customer experience leveraging this innovation and thus shifting the value model of the entire industry. The electric vehicle propulsion technology with the convergence in data and information ecosystems, coupled with the market viewpoint of mobility as a service will create massive opportunities for growth for those ready to adapt.
For those wanting to capitalize on these shifts in the automotive and mobility service industry, it’s important to seek out the solutions and partners that will allow them to fully realize the benefits of AM – to drive the future of automotive and automotive service providers. Innovations in technologies like advanced materials and software solutions that drive easier adoption, expand the ecosystem of automotive service providers. Some examples of AM innovations that will shape the automotive service industry are provided in the following.
Immense productivity gain with part stacking enabled through software tool
The economics of part production are critical to make additive a viable solution for end-use service components in the service of electric vehicle mobility. Productivity gains in AM are a close interplay between hardware, software, and materials. Print file AM software for the production of plastic parts enables high-density part stacking and new strut support structures, which can facilitate a 40% improvement in productivity. This productivity allows for quick on-demand part production at a scale that makes business sense while allowing for distribution and decentralization of production capacity.
Surfacing and texturing for the perfect customer experience
With new technologies enabled through electric and propulsion systems manufacturers and services providers can transform the customer interface and controls, often adapting these in the field based on new or latent needs identified in the market. To create the perfect customer experience in the automotive interior, sensory factors such as color, feel, and surface finish or texture need to be balanced. Using organic 3D design software enables engineers and designers to apply textures to complex surfaces. For example, the textured components can then be directly printed using a variety of plastic 3D printing technologies to provide a surface aesthetic and feel that customers expect.
AM simulation software for increased productivity and yield
Service companies in automotive will be challenged with developing advanced solutions, in the shortened time to capitalize on that market opportunity, and balancing with the quality expected in the automotive experience. Leveraging simulation-based optimization and automation of the AM print preparation and workflow which incorporates sophisticated algorithms allowing engineers to rapidly determine optimum print setup, such as part orientation and support structures, as well as directly adapt the process set up for effective thermal management and distortion compensation. This highly automated simulation software – which interfaces with leading CAD systems – enables increased productivity by reducing set-up time whilst improving product yield, throughput, and component performance.
Material science enabling transformative applications
A key gap in real automotive use of additive manufacturing or 3D printing is designing materials that are intended to achieve various automotive requirements, for example, temperature requirements, chemical exposure, and part life. In AM materials do not stand alone but are in a close interplay with printer hardware, materials, and software. By marrying advancements in material science with expertise in process engineering, parameter development, material testing, and application expertise, solution providers can create transformative applications for the automotive industry. More and more materials are designed and tested for new production applications in the electric vehicle space. These are well-suited and currently available for the new automotive service industry transformation.
A good example of this innovation is highlighted in materials like Figure 4 High Temp 150°C FR Black which couples high-temperature resistance with long-term mechanical performance and environmental stability. This rigid, flame-retardant black material for components that require performance at high temperatures like brackets, covers, and retention components. This material has been tested per ASTM D4329 and ASTM G194 methods to ensure interior and exterior mechanical performance out to 8 and 1.5 years, respectively.
Another example would be Accura AMX Rigid Black, a production-grade industrial resin with long-term environmental stability for large-scale plastic parts. For parts that exhibit superior surface quality comparable to injection-molded plastics and similar stress/strain toughness to standard thermoplastics. The high isotropic mechanical properties enable greater part repeatability compared to filament or powder-binding technologies.
Those stakeholders that will capitalize on the electrification transformation in the automotive industry understand that the automotive service industry will not just be impacted by, but will fundamentally contribute to the transformation happening in the automotive and mobility space. The service industry will leverage capabilities and strategies that allow it to provide the maximum value to the customer experience transformation including decentralizing manufacturing, transforming from products to experiences, and closing the loop through reduced waste and recycling/repurposing. Additive manufacturing through trusted solutions provides an essential enabler for service companies making this contribution by delivering new experiences at production scale, with the properties suited for use, and with the quality and experience, a growing mobility customer expects.
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