Posted by Prahlad Parmar on November 5th, 2014
3D printing and additive manufacturing have become the buzzwords in the industry. However, why are we talking so much about this technology and why has it gained so much popularity?
3D printing also known as additive manufacturing is a process of printing a 3D object from a digital CAD file. The engineering design for a product is created in a CAD file using 3D modeling tools. A 3D printer is fed with the design data via these CAD files.
The material with which a product needs to be built – such as sand, liquid resin, silica powder etc is filled in the printer. The printer separates the design into a sequenced layer of 2D cross-sections. According to the design information fed through the CAD data the 3D printer uses laser technology to print the material in successive layers and then fuse / harden it.
Wide Acceptance across the Automotive Industry
BMW 3D prints artificial thumbs for to reduce stress on hands, for car manufacturing line workers. More than 12 vehicles per minute are built at ford motor factories around the world. Local motors built a car in just 6 days, during a demonstration in Chicago. News such as these are proof enough of how this rapid prototyping technology is making its way and is set to revolutionize the automotive industry.
While manufacturing is definitely one of the areas benefitted by the advent and availability of 3D printing technology, product design and development is another area that is increasingly explored by leveraging the capabilities and benefits 3D printing offers.
Ford, one of the pioneers of ‘use of 3D printing in the automotive industry’ bought the third 3D printer ever manufactured, almost 30 years ago, and now has 5 labs that use 3D printing technology, and can print car parts in a couple of hours to a few days from a wide range of materials like silica, resin, sand and metal.
Ford set an example by using 3D printing for product development. In 2010, the company used 3D printing to quickly prototype, diagnose and resolve a brake noise problem in the Ford Explorer. At the same time they also managed to maximize the EcoBoost engine line up efficiency and also the efficiency of its new 2.7 liter engine designed for another model F-150 pickup. The company claims that it not only managed to roll out the Ford Explorer as per the scheduled launch date, but also managed to save costs in the process.
3D Printing/Rapid Prototyping – Major Boost for Product Development Activities
Lower time for design optimization and validation translates into a product reaching the market faster. Using 3D printing prototype manufacturing becomes cost effective and provides a wider scope for experiments. There can be 12 different designs an engineer/designer might want to test. Hence multiple prototypes can be manufactured to see what works the best. This can be done easily and at much lesser costs than the conventional prototyping methods.
Using see-through Materials for Prototyping/Testing
There is a growing trend amongst engineers and designers to print a prototype with see through material. This is specifically an effective method of detecting problems in complex designs. See through prototypes extend complete clarity of what’s going on inside the product and how different parts interact during operation. This supports product design improvement for better performance.
About Author: Prahlad Parmar is an Engineering Specialist working at Mechanical 3D Modelling for the past 4 years. He caters critical engineering challenges with ease and performs exhaustive procedures to develop robust, well-engineered and high performance designs. He can always be found in the lab discussing, brainstorming and tweaking designs.