INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: 3D Printing for Production Parts Gains Credibility

Why are some engineers so hesitant to use 3D printing for more than just development?

Engineers are hardwired and trained to make calculated decisions based on facts. Traditional manufacturing processes such as casting and molding have been around a very, very long time—since the Bronze Age—and time has perfected these processes and brought them to what they are today. Both industry experts and novices alike can benefit from hundreds of years of this process evolution. 3D printing processes are relatively new, especially when compared to casting or injection molding.

Motor mounts are among a growing list of automotive parts that are now manufactured using commercial-grade 3D printing.

Modern, commercial-grade printing equipment and processes are capable of predictable results that will ease the mind of the most skeptical engineer. DMLS (direct metal laser sintering) can produce repeatable results for parts that can be manufactured in no other known method. Proto Labs’ 3DP facility is not only ISO 9001:2008, but also AS 9100. This is the supplemental requirement established by the aerospace industry to satisfy DOD, NASA, and FAA quality requirements. This certification should give any engineer a sense of security.

Understanding some basic quality parameters around the processes can help to lay a foundation of credibility. For example, limits are set to the number of times base material can be used, or only virgin powder could be specified. This is no different than controlling the amount of allowable regrind into a plastic injection-molded part.

Rolls-Royce is a notable automaker now using commercial-grade 3D printing for some production parts.

Testing parts to confirm material properties are extremely common in DMLS. Building a standard tensile bar with each build is a great way to confirm batches of production are producing the desired results. This way the first batch can have destructive testing on the tensile bar and parts to confirm the material and process are producing parts with the specified properties. The future batches can test the tensile bar for confirmation the predictable results were achieved.

The aerospace industry has been embracing advanced manufacturing methods for some time now and the automotive industry has also been making great strides in this area. For example, recent articles have been published around the Rolls-Royce Phantom’s printed parts and BMW’s leading spot in adopting printing technologies.

TIPS WITH TONY: New Silicone Rubber Materials

We’ve expanded our selection of liquid silicone rubber (LSR) materials, which have some distinct elastic and optical advantages over certain thermoplastics. In addition to three durometers of general-use Elastosil LSR, and medical- and optical-grade Dow Corning materials, we now have two new durometers of Elastosil and a fuel-resistant flourosilicone material at Proto Labs.

Elastosil LSR
Elastosil LSR is a great general-use material that has good moldability characteristics, a good overall appearance and is transparent until colorant is added. Shore A durometers of 40 and 60 have been added our current offering of 30, 50, and 70 durometers.

Technical specs:

  • 40 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 10.0 N/mm² with a tear strength of 33 N/mm and an elongation break of 610%.
  • 60 durometer Elastosil has a tensile strength of 9.40 N/mm² with a tear strength of 27 N/mm and an elongation break of 340%.

Auto-mation: Can Market Adoption of Autonomous Cars Match the hype?

The automotive industry, including the disruptive tech giants, are investing tremendous amounts of funding and human capital into the development of autonomous vehicles and related technologies. Evidence of this is General Motors’ $500 million investment in Lyft and $1 billion into the upcoming acquisition of Cruise Automation Inc. It’s difficult to read about the automotive industry without encountering discussions around autonomous driving. The auto industry is hiring software developers at a pace once that was once limited to mechanical and industrial engineers.

A rendering of possible autonomous driving interaction. Source: General Motors

Market Adoption … Eventually
So, why is the auto industry going down this path when a majority of the American consumers flat out do not want a driverless car or trust the concept yet? A recent J.D. Power survey found that just over half of Gen Z and Gen Y are interested — that’s surprisingly low, since these groups are more comfortable with public transportation and delay owning a car more than previous generations. And only about 41% of Gen Xers support self-driving technology, a rate that shrinks further for the baby boomers at 23%. It’s important to note here that the peak age for purchasing a new car is 43 years old.

The answer lies in the fact that the “R” in automotive R&D historically occurs 10 to 20 years before actually moving to production lines. This extended timeline frequently means the industry is working on things the consumer has not yet even taken into account. But as discussed in an earlier post, recent tech giant disruptions are shortening this product development cycle.

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Trade Show Roundup: Detroit and Boston

The automotive and medical industries are on display this week at a couple of high-profile trade shows:

We’ll be at SAE World Congress running today through Thursday at the COBO Center in Detroit. Find us at booth #1335 to talk with a customer service engineer about how quick-turn 3D printing, machining and injection molding are well-suited for automotive prototyping.

In Boston, we’ll be talking device development and prototyping in booth #304 at BIOMEDevice, taking place at the Boston Convention Center tomorrow and Thursday. Get a free Expo Hall pass with code: invite.


The New Automotive Disrupters: Tech Giants

The automotive industry has stood as the life blood of American manufacturing for decades. It is the heart of the Detroit economy and in recent years has faced many challenges, but some of the greatest challenges have just begun. Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Tesla, to name a few, are poised to drive new levels of competition. It’s fair to say these companies qualify as a Big Bang disruption that is a major industry change instigated by non-traditional players in the market.

Most of us still think of the automobile primarily as a tool to bring us from point A to point B, but cars and trucks have become so more than just transportation. Many modern cars are a fully connected infotainment system that just happen to be on four wheels. The automobile has become a mobile conglomerate of computer and technology devices — a true command center supporting the driver with much more than just driving.

Another way to look at this shift is with the electronic device industry. A decade ago, the handheld GPS was a very common and useful tool. Today, GPS navigation is almost an afterthought on your smartphone since it’s as simple as downloading a user-friendly app. This is just one of many seismic digital shifts in the past 10 years.

However, while the technology-based companies leading the electronic infiltration into the automotive world certainly have the computing chops, the knowledge, depth and infrastructure that comes with manufacturing electronic components for the automotive industry is still developing. These tech giants must acclimate to model years and multi-year platforms compared to frequent software updates — two fundamentally different ideologies colliding.

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