If you thought last year was an exciting year for the automotive industry, then put your seatbelt on for 2019. There are many factors weighing in on the future of auto makers and vehicle trends for this year. Like in any industry, there’s a series of challenges expected with growth and change.
3D Printing – Examples of performance, luxury, and futurism
3D printing will begin to appear in other areas, such as basic car construction done by mainstream carmakers and new players like Local Motors, a low-volume manufacturer of open-source vehicles. After all, 3D printing makes it cost-effective to build things, challenging today’s fundamental approach to car design.
Currently, cars are designed to withstand three, four or five crashes and last perhaps seven and a half years. But 3D printing enables the industry to build a car on a solid chassis with an outer body designed for a single crash, then cost effectively replace that while leaving the basic vehicle skeleton/structure in place. It could disrupt our concept of accident repair.
The performance of tomorrow
French truck and military vehicle manufacturer Renault Trucks is reportedly working on developing a metal 3D printing process that will help to boost engine performance. Additive manufacturing is expected to help make engines more compact and lightweight and thus more efficient. As we’ve seen within the automotive industry already, metal 3D printing has offered unprecedented design freedom, meaning that parts with complex structures and shapes can be manufactured with relative ease. For designing and manufacturing thermal engines, this facet of 3D printing is also beneficial, especially as it allows for a reduction of the overall number of parts that go into the engine structure.
“Additive manufacturing releases us from constraints and unlocks the creativity of engineers,” commented Damien Lemasson, project manager at Renault Trucks. “This procedure is a source of disruptive technology for the engines of tomorrow, which will be lighter and more functional, thereby offering optimal performance.”
Luxury – the personal touch
In 2016 Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the CEO of Rolls-Royce, shared how embracing new technologies, including 3D printing, is his strategy for the company’s survival. Sales figures for 2016 show just how successful this custom-made approach is, as Rolls-Royce sold over 4,000 cars for only the second time in history. Total sales of Rolls-Royce cars are a 6% increase on 2015, the UK being the highest increase in demand by in 26%, and the US by 10%. According to Rolls-Royce, “Today, practically every motor car that leaves the Home of Rolls-Royce in Goodwood, England is Bespoke.” In a retrospective of the best Rolls-Royce models of 2016, custom touches to their models include everything from the exterior paintwork, to the interior dashboard, fittings and upholstery.
Divergent and PSA believe that cars being produced are becoming more and more sustainable, the process of manufacturing them is unchanging. In order to address this, Divergent created the ‘Node’ technique which involves 3D printing aluminium nodes and combining them with 3D printed carbon fibre. This process has many advantages; the use of 3D printing in their factory helps to reduce emissions, the car produced is considerably lighter compared to orthodox manufacturing techniques, and there is less waste as the number of materials used is reduced.
“This has the potential to dramatically change the economics and product cycle speed of car design and manufacturing. For example, we believe we can reduce the vehicle structure weight of a standard five passenger vehicle by over 50% and the number of parts by over 75%”. said Kevin Czinger.
The company initially introduced its concept of a 3D printed supercar in 2015 to create efficient yet robust frameworks for cars. With lighter chassis and structures, the Divergent 3D development team discovered that automobile manufacturers can benefit from capital reduction and sustainability in manufacturing. Divergent 3D recently decided to enter into a strategic partnership with PSA Group to help the automobile manufacturer save capital and optimize manufacturing processes. The two companies have agreed on the establishment of a long-term relationship to benefit from each other’s resources, technologies and expertise.
As one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, PSA Group has huge amounts of resources and capital. With that, Divergent 3D’s innovative technologies can be tested and implemented by a wider range of cars and projects, outside the realm of supercars and luxury car models. Thus, PSA plans to utilize Divergent 3D’s technologies in enhancing overall vehicle structures to build lighter and structurally safer cars in the future.
Divergent 3D founder and CEO Kevin Czinger recently revealed a bit more detail about that technology, which combines 3D printed nodes, created from high-silicon aluminum using a DMLS process, with laser-cut carbon fiber tubes. The assembly, which is done by hand, takes only minutes and forms a strong, lightweight structure. “We use 3D printing to create those connectors with low-cost aluminum extrusion plus lightweight, aerospace-grade carbon fiber that’s also low cost because we’re using already characterized carbon fiber structural pieces, versus wet layup methods,” Czinger told Design News. PSA Group firmly believes that the partnership and integration of Divergent 3D’s technologies will establish the position of the firm as the leading innovator in the automobile industry.