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.

Continue reading

NEW JOURNAL: Trends, Drones and High Heels

The new issue of Proto Labs Journal is out. In our cover story, we look at industry macrotrends in manufacturing for 2016, from automotive lightweighting to human-factors engineering in health care.

The story reports on factors that are driving automotive innovation, trends keeping the aerospace industry aloft and forces such as an aging population that are influencing medical applications. And speaking of med tech, the Journal also includes an informative infographic on rapid manufacturing for medical device development.

Elsewhere in the new Journal, look for stories on high-tech high heels, smart luggage and a new drone we worked on for Lockheed Martin.

Read the entire Journal here.

We’re always on the hunt for thought-provoking content, so send your cool project or article idea to our editor at angelo.gentile@protolabs.com.

Thanks and enjoy the issue!

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: Carmakers Drive Innovation with Lightweighting, Powertrains

Auto fact #1: About 50 percent of a modern car’s volume is plastic yet it only accounts for 10 percent of its weight

Auto fact #2: 43-year-old men purchase more cars than anyone else.

Stats like this bring to life the changes taking place in the evolution of the automotive industry, as research and development move at a pace faster than ever.

Two major factors are driving these changes: regulations and market demands. We are all familiar with automobile safety regulations, but may be less familiar with CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. These standards set mileage requirements for an automaker’s fleet. The 2025 target is 54.5 miles per gallon.

Now think of the 40-something guy that represents the largest demographic who are purchasing cars. Is this individual willing to give up performance, e.g., acceleration or leather seats or integrated entertainment systems, so that his new ride meets mileage and safety requirements. Probably not. Innovation is often times driven by necessity and the automotive industry is responding.

BMW started using magnesium for its N52 six-cylinder crankcases and cylinder head covers in 2005.

In recent years, there has been a major push around lightweighting to help address mileage requirements. Weight reduction is one proven method to improve fuel economy and minimize the impact on performance. This can achieved through the use of engineering-grade resins that possess physical properties well beyond what the average consumer thinks is possible.

Continue reading

Making the Steering Wheel Work

TRW Automotive’s clock spring design.

Most days drivers don’t give much thought to what happens when you press a steering wheel button. But it has been at the forefront of Rick Bowes’ mind for quite a while. Bowes is a designer in the body control systems group at Michigan-based TRW Automotive. The global company focuses on active and passive safety systems and has worked with Proto Labs for the past five years.   Continue reading