The latest innovations in the automotive industry are driven by 3D printing. Manufacturers today no longer need to rely on mockup drawings or general prototypes. By 3D printing automotive components, companies can choose from thousands of materials, colors, and textures to bring their idea to life.
So what are automotive companies 3D printing? More than you think. Automotive suppliers are producing car parts like tail light covers, wheel covers, and door handles as well as tools, jigs, and fixtures to reduce manufacturing cost and maximize assembly line productivity.
3D printing automotive prototypes is cheaper and faster than traditional means. Parts can be produced one at a time or in batches; it’s even possible to build entire assemblies together, saving time. For example, a Center Console or Instrument Cluster prototyped by traditional means entails days or weeks of tedious painting and hand work. Or it could be built overnight in full color on the J750, allowing design iterations to be evaluated faster.
Workholding and assembly fixtures are especially challenging in automotive applications, often requiring complex geometries and non-marring materials. Welding such fixtures is labor-intensive (often requiring weld fixtures of their own), and requires additional part-contact components to be machined and bolted on afterward. Machining allows complex geometries to be fabricated from non-marring materials, but the raw billets are expensive and so is stock removal. The most cost-effective result is often much heavier than necessary.
By contrast, 3D printing jigs and fixtures allows complex geometries to be produced without labor costs, and since the process is additive, lighter structures cost less, not more. This time and cost-savings means tooling changes can be reprinted rather than reworking existing tools.
3D printing materials best used for the automotive industry can vary on the application. Here are examples of Stratasys materials optimal for their specific applications.
Functional Prototyping: High-performance FDM thermoplastics are commonly used for real-world testing while PolyJet photopolymers offer fine details and unmatched production realism.
Jigs & Fixtures: Tough, durable FDM thermoplastics that can withstand rugged manufacturing environments are ideal for jigs and fixtures because they print quickly with less waste than traditional methods.
Tooling: Production grade thermoplastics offer specialized properties like electrostatic dissipation, UV resistance, or self-extinguishing flammability. For example, ULTEM 9085 FDM material has a high strength-to-weight ratio and aerospace certifications while PolyJet Digital ABS is ideal for high-resolution durable parts like short-run injection mold tooling.
Prototype Production Parts: Tough, durable FDM thermoplastics like PEKK and carbon fiber-reinforced Nylon can withstand rugged manufacturing environments. Antero 800NA material (PEKK) has extremely high heat and chemical resistance making it suitable for environments with coolants and hydraulic fluids. Nylon 12-CF has extremely high stiffness and compressive strength making it suitable for structural elements.
Choosing the right 3D CAD software and pairing it with the best 3D printing software will ultimately depend on your budget, industry, and end goals. Here’s our pick for the best software for the 3D printing professional.
Learn more about how Audi is able to print multi-color prototypes quickly and accurately, enabling them to test form and function, iterating from idea to product faster with Vivid Colors and the J750 PolyJet printer.