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3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force Issues Final Report

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Back in May, auto repair industry professionals associated with the International Bodyshop Industry Symposium (IBIS) Worldwide launched the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force. Headed by Harold Sears, who led the additive manufacturing (AM) division at Ford Motor Company, the organization’s intimal members also include a dozen other individuals integral to the US ecosystem for automotive spares produced with AM.

Now, the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force has issued its final report, which can be found here. One of the participants in this initial phase of the group’s activities, Mario Dimovski of The Boyd Group Services Inc., told me that the group plans to continue its activities in some form following the release of the report.

Before that happens, anyone interested in contributing to the organization’s mission should take notice of the report’s main implications. In addition to interviewing industry insiders with relevant experience and conducting both in-person and virtual investigation of parts, members of the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force visited facilities all over the world that are conducting research into AM for auto parts. The report outlines the most common advantages unlocked by use of AM in the global auto industry thus far, while also pointing to issues that will likely only be solvable via coordinated regulatory action.

Image courtesy of 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force

I think that some of the group’s most intriguing findings entail the current benefits and drawbacks of 3D printed spare parts for auto insurance companies:

On the one hand, for instance, the report notes that, “…[streamlined repair] facilitated by 3D printing leads to reduced repair cycle times. Traditional methods of sourcing, ordering, and shipping replacement parts can be time-consuming, causing delays in vehicle repairs. In contrast, 3D printing enables on-demand production of required parts, significantly accelerating the repair timeline. Quicker repairs not only enhance customer satisfaction but also contribute to lower car rental expenses. Insured individuals experience shorter periods of vehicle unavailability, resulting in reduced rental costs borne by insurers.” On the other hand, as the report also points out, “Increased claims and settlement costs can result from accidents caused by the failure of substandard 3D printed parts. This can lead to higher premiums…Insurers may [also] face regulatory challenges if they endorse or approve the use of 3D printed parts that do not meet safety and quality standards.”

Part 3D printed by Carbon for Ford. Image courtesy of Carbon

Overall, the report leans more towards the cautious side, which is only sensible concerning a topic where not only great quantities of capital but actual lives are at stake. It is certainly cautiously optimistic, however, and suggests proactive steps that can be taken, most importantly including the recommendation of “a regulatory body or governing authority” that “would define and enforce quality standards, certification processes, and compliance measures for 3D printed parts.”

Both the organization and its report are timely, not only because of the particular set of issues the US auto industry is facing right now, but equally insofar as any precedent set by the group’s work would serve as a viable model to be applied for AM in other industries. It is no secret that the regulatory landscape has to start acting far more quickly in order to catch up to the pace of technological change, and that objective would seem impossible to achieve unless more groups like the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force spring into existence.

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