In the spring of 2023, one of the world’s only organizations dedicated to the auto collision repair industry, the International Bodyshop Industry Symposium (IBIS) Worldwide, launched a project called the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force. Although initiatives like this seem to be launched on a weekly basis these days, when I posted about the group’s formation back in May, I was struck by the organization’s highly influential list of participants, as well as the breadth of experience that was put together.
The panel was established in order to create consensus on the most urgent issues surrounding 3D printed auto spares, from all relevant areas of the collision industry supply chain. As such, the industry experts involved ranged from auto giants to major additive manufacturing (AM) original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to auto parts recyclers.
In October 2023, the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force issued its final report, but, as that report explained, the plan is for the task force’s findings to serve as a jumping-off point for the creation of a more permanent body. The head of the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force, Harold Sears — formerly the head of AM at Ford Motor Company — explained to me what form the organization may take in the near future, and filled me in on what his work on the task force taught him about the landscape for 3D printed auto spares.
Along those lines, one of the key purposes of the task force was to ensure that the experts involved were as up-to-date as possible on the latest activities driving the use of AM in auto repair globally:
As the final report notes, “Our findings were derived from referrals, personal dialogues, media sources, conference engagements, and meticulous physical inspections of parts. Additionally, we procured components from various outlets, including online platforms and industry suppliers. Furthermore, our task force visited prominent entities such as IBIS Global, HP’s Barcelona Facility, Thatcham Research, ADAC Automotive, Carhart Products, Boyd Group, and I-CAR, where we gleaned invaluable insights and explored potential collaborations to advance our objectives.”
Image courtesy of 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force
Sears noted that he was more than a little concerned by the (lack of) quality of the parts the task force ordered online. The most critical thing to keep in mind is the inherent difference between 3D printed parts certified by auto giants and legitimate suppliers, and the anonymous spares that anyone with internet access can purchase:
And, while the problem of 3D printed parts that are too technically sound is certainly interesting to keep in mind down the road, Sears pointed out that, for the most part, the 3D printed spares the task force procured online were well below standard:
This is where the next phase of the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force comes in. In order to provide the sort of assurances Sears correctly argues are non-negotiable, a certification authority needs to be in place. Whether it’s private, public, or — as is most likely, in my opinion — a public-private hybrid, an institution needs to exist that has the expertise, legitimacy, and power to qualify the platforms and processes involved in 3D printing safe and reliable spare parts for the auto industry.
Those involved in the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force not only have the advantage of having had a head start, but just as significantly, are already precisely the individuals who anyone starting a similar project would need to have input from in order to be successful at the task at-hand. One of the biggest tasks, for instance, will be how to best achieve digital quality control.
Again, the key to building up the capacity to do that will depend upon the strength of the standards organization that emerges to qualify and deliver the relevant solutions.
As I mentioned in a post about the potential for AM-centric digital supply chains to be deployed for quality control in the aerospace sector, the work of the 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force could align in many ways with the interests of other strategic sectors, including defense. As Sears aptly noted, it’s not easy to get the right people together, and that can be all the more difficult when trying to find consensus across the world’s most complex sectors. On the other hand, when the right problem comes along, it can be precisely the impetus necessary to spark new and unexpected collaborations.
Attendees of Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) in New York City (February 6-8, 2024) can see 3D Printing in Auto Repair Task Force member Mario Dimovski speak on the AM for Mobility Panel.
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