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Why 3D Printed Prototypes are Essential to the Automotive Industry

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Balancing deadlines and quality work isn’t an easy task to accomplish, especially when you are challenged with creating complex automotive designs. OEMs and their suppliers are constantly looking for ways to improve process, while saving time and money. This is where using 3D printing for prototyping has become an essential part of the automotive design process.

Validation of a design base on what a computer image shows you isn’t a foolproof way of ensuring design quality and traditional prototyping methods can be costly and expensive. By incorporating an onsite 3D printer, design engineers can print their CAD models and have them in hand within a matter of hours, ensuring quality and design validation at a speed and price that far exceeds traditional means. The value of having a part in hand to make a proper determination on design quality can be the catalyst to a project’s success.   

“By the time a conventional prototype can be made, it’s possible to invest large amounts of time and money in a design that doesn’t work,” says Bruce Vanisacker, designer for Dana Corporation Rapid Prototyping/CAE Services.

Comparing fused deposition modeling 3D printing (FDM) to conventional methods, Vanisacker says, “FDM enables us to produce accurate and specialized functional rapid prototypes in a few days. A physical part gives everyone the opportunity to hold and touch and feel the part and determine exactly where we stand.”

3D printing enables better production as faster turnaround means quicker time to move onto the next project. “The reduction in the time and cost of proposing new designs has enabled us to increase the number of product development projects by a factor of five without increasing our staff,” says Ted DiBlasioo, prototype manager for vehicle integration at Magna Closures. “We can also respond more quickly to customer requests, which increases the odds of getting the order. As many of our higher volume proposals come to fruition, we expect to see a substantial increase in revenues.”

The ease of use that 3D printers provide has also become an added benefit of bringing the technology on board. Sending designs to third-party companies for prototyping requires NDAs and even then the design data is no longer in house. By using 3D printing, all data can stay within the automotive design group.

These case studies are great examples of how the automotive industry is using 3D printing to achieve greater business advantages. How can 3D printing help your company.

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About the Author

Rob Stipek is an additive manufacturing marketing specialist at Fisher Unitech. Having worked in the manufacturing technology industry since 2010, he has an extensive background with multiple manufacturing applications including injection molding, simulation, and 3D printing. He writes about ways in which additive manufacturing is being applied in multiple industries to improve on engineering processes and increase innovation.