In March 2020, German automaker Porsche announced that it would begin testing a new production concept: partially 3D printed bodyform bucket seats. Now, it appears that the trajectory from the testing to the production phase will total just under two years, as Porsche is now announcing the sales launch of this product. It will be offered to customers upon request on the Porsche Tequipment site for the Boxster, Cayman, and 911 models. Moreover, starting early next year, the company will present its new design to a broader audience, as it plans to add the 3D printed seats as a standard feature on Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur—the brand’s personalization program—in February 2022, at which point it will also become part of the Porsche Car Configurator.
“Seats adapted to individual drivers have been available for a long time in professional motorsport. Now Porsche also offers a road-approved customisation with different rigidity grades as standard,” notes German race car driver Lars Kern, one of many customers chosen by Porsche over the past couple years, at various car exhibitions, to be a test driver. “During the initial test drives I was impressed by the ergonomics – the slightly lower seat position and improved thigh support are similar to what you get from a seat in a racing car. The passive ventilation is impressive too.”
Parts of the cushion and backrest are 3D printed from a combination of polyurethane-based materials. One of the benefits of this is that the parts made using AM come in three different rigidity grades that customers can choose from. They’re then clipped together with the rest of the seat, which, the company notes, results in a product that generates none of the emissions associated with the adhesives used in conventional car production. Additionally, the 3D printed seats are over 8% lighter than their conventionally manufactured counterparts.
The approach Porsche has taken here to test its concept is especially important to pay attention to. It’s quite noteworthy to look at a company’s press release, for instance, and see a quote from an actual customer rather than a CEO or an engineer. This is an advantage that car manufacturers have: getting timely feedback directly from actual consumers of their brand. For one thing, this helps a great deal from the standpoint of quickly and continuously integrating customers’ responses into the research and development process.
Also, since the factor of brand loyalty matters to makers of luxury vehicles more so, perhaps, than it does to any other industry, feedback garnered from this type of research can be counted on to be a more reliable indicator of actual, future business results than it would in other contexts. In other words, if the people who tested the product like it, as in this case, you can expect actual customers to respond similarly. Thus, Porsche’s particularly clever focus group strategy may be largely responsible for its quick movement from conceptualization to execution on this project.
In general, German automakers seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to building AM into their mass production plans. For example, drivers of the BMW Mini have been able to customize aspects of their seats since 2018 thanks to features designed and build with 3D printing technology. Similarly, Volkswagen announced earlier in 2021 that by 2025, it expects to 3D print 100,000 parts per year. So while the US and China seem to be doubling down repeatedly on applying AM to aerospace and defense, Germany appears to be taking the lead on innovations for the direct-to-consumer market. If industrialization’s past is any indication of its future, this could prove to be a smart move in the long run.
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