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3D Printing Materials Changing the Automotive Manufacturing Industry

Stratasys Staff Writer
Stratasys Staff Writer April 10, 2023
April 10, 2023

Today's automobile is a mixture of many different designs, parts, and shapes.  3D printing lends itself perfectly to fabricating many of these parts throughout an automobile because of the variety of materials available, ranging from thermoplastics to thermosets to photopolymers. 3D printing isn’t only used to produce parts and components within and on the automobile, however; it can also help automotive manufacturers create various manufacturing aids to assist during the manufacturing process. 

As a result, 3D printing materials have heavily influenced what’s possible in the automotive industry. Compared to metal materials for instance, polymer materials offer:

  • Greater accessibility and ease of use
  • Extensive material options with varying price ranges
  • Strong and lightweight alternatives for metal replacement applications

Let's look at some of the materials that have heavily influenced what’s possible in the automotive industry:

How to Choose the Right 3D Printing Materials for Automotive Manufacturing

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3D Printing Materials for Vehicle Interior Parts

Additive manufacturing technology has advanced to the point where it is now possible to produce parts for a vehicle's interior. Stratasys’ FabriX Innovation Kit for the J850 Prime 3D Printer, for instance, makes it possible to use 3D printed fabric to create various textures and patterns for car interiors.

 

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Additive manufacturing is ideal for creating interior car parts for mock-ups and prototypes because certain 3D printing materials can mimic the look and feel with a wide range of color and texture capabilities. Other notable 3D printing materials for a car’s interior include:

  • Polyamide (PA) is used within parts of the vehicle interior including door handles, gear knobs, and other functional parts.
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is used for interior parts such as instrument panels, door trims, and other aesthetic parts.

3D Printing Materials for Manufacturing Aids

Automotive manufacturing aids are parts not on the finished automobile but are instead used to assist during the manufacturing process. Aids are often customized for a specific application. Such tools greatly help the manufacturing process and subsequently improve efficiency and reduce downtime.

Here are some examples of 3D printed manufacturing aids.

  • Jigs and fixtures are custom-made tools that are used to hold and position parts during manufacturing. 3D printing allows manufacturers to quickly create these tools with precise dimensions and in a variety of shapes, which improves efficiency and reduces downtime.
  • Molds may be 3D printed and used for casting and injection molding. This allows manufacturers to create complex geometries and internal structures that are otherwise difficult, if not impossible to achieve with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Inspection and measurement tools may be 3D printed and customized to create precise and specific measurement and inspection tools such as gauge blocks, micrometers and custom-made gauges.
  • Protective covers can be produced from 3D printing and can be used to create protective covers for machines or equipment.  Such covers can improve safety and reduce downtime caused by repairs.

Manufacturing aids are extremely useful for automotive manufacturers because they help mold things, guide and align parts, and cover and protect equipment and components. Being able to 3D print a customized manufacturing aid for a specific application is a huge benefit because of the flexibility and versatility AM offers.

Additive manufacturing technology also allows a wide array of material options available to be used to create manufacturing aids. For instance, manufacturing aids can be created using ASA, ABS-CF10, FDM® Nylon-CF10, and more! The most important component of manufacturing aid material is durability.

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 FDM® Nylon 12CF can reduce lead time, costs and speed.

3D Printing Materials for Part Production

3D printing often fast-tracks part production because it can bypass manufacturability constraints or economic hold-ups. When deciding 3D printing materials for part production and/or spare parts, you have to take print-volume into consideration.

Low-volume parts can be created using PolyJet, FDM and Stereolithography materials; whereas high-volume production parts are best suited for P3™ and SAF™ materials.

Roush Performance used SAF technology & PA11

Roush Performance, for instance, used SAF™ technology and PA11 to print the F-150 grill-mounted camera housing for its entire production run after a late-stage design change, meeting schedule and saving 35% in cost compared to injection molding. 

The Sky is the Limit

The advancements in additive manufacturing technology and software have improved the range of 3D printing materials that exist today. OpenAM™software, for example, gives Stratasys customers access to third party open materials through an annual OpenAM materials license. The OpenAM software will allow customers to unlock endless opportunities using additive for complex, heavy industrial and automotive applications.

To learn more about the best 3D printing materials for automotive manufacturing, read our Automotive Material Guide!

Ready to choose the best 3D printing material for your automotive project?

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There should be no limits on what’s possible with 3D printing. The polymer materials industry is investing in additive manufacturing like they never have before, and we want our world-class customers to be able to take full advantage of those innovations in chemistry as quickly as possible. Our hybrid materials strategy does just that, because the world urgently needs to make this shift to additive manufacturing at scale.

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