AJAY PARIKH is Vice President and Business Head at Wipro 3D
Over the years, India has emerged as a strong automotive technology and product development base, riding on a gifted talent pool, among other tail winds. Several automotive companies have set up product and technology development centres that have graduated from making India-specific changes to developing and rolling out India-specific products. Indian auto makers, and along with global auto manufacturers, are successfully tapping international markets using India as a base for exports.
The way in which we experience and use transportation is going to change significantly in the mid to long term, with environmental regulations creating significant pressure on automakers to improvise their products in the short term. For the automotive industry world over, this creates opportunities to reimagine the way products are designed, manufactured and consumed. Manufacturers, who want to become or stay successful irrespective of size, need to think differently and innovatively, to prepare for this exciting future. This is where additive manufacturing or 3D printing is likely to play a significant role.
ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING ERA
The aerospace and the medical sectors were among the early adopters of additive manufacturing, given the obvious benefits in terms of speed, total cost of ownership, design freedom & optimisation, as well as manufacturing flexibility, to name a few.
Several studies and experts highlight the fact that companies with high “adjacency” to such sectors, such as high-performance car manufacturers, with relatively lesser volumes, tend to adopt additive manufacturing faster and to a greater extent into their production.
BMW, for instance, has used a metal 3D printed part in its production series vehicle. According to industry experts, this is a first for auto industry worldwide. The 2018 BMW i8 Roadster component, the company says is 44 % lighter than the baseline and proves its viability by being technically sensible and cost effective. BMW, which has been using 3D printing for more than two decades, has now put the technology on the road. It is showing the way for using AM in mass production of cars.
An industry report points out that engineers and designers at Renault Trucks are exploring additive manufacturing to improve the performance of their engines . They have also successfully tested some of the metal 3D printed parts inside a Euro 6 engine.
For some car manufacturers with a broader portfolio of cars and customers, additive manufacturing so far has been limited to prototyping. Most OEMs currently are in what we call the “Tech Check” quadrant, limiting the use to design iterations that focus mostly on speed and not so much on prove outs to produce AM parts in large volumes. The predominant limiting factors in terms of usage of AM have been the inability of the current technology platforms to produce high volumes at the desired cost. As a result, few are prepared to commit to an “additive design” that cannot be realised conventionally, creating further challenges in adaption.
However, there is no denying the fact that 3D printing offers great potential for high performance and low volume (production) cars right away, as well as indirect applications such as tooling that aid in traditional high volume manufacturing. There are instances of AM applications finding use in supporting aftermarket supply chain.
As we see maturing of emerging additive technologies that promise to deliver on cost and speed both, we see the automotive sector contributing significantly to large scale industrial adaption of additive manufacturing. Some analysts and industry experts expect the automotive additive manufacturing market to be in excess of $ 5 bn in 2023 and in excess of $ 12 bn in 2028. While this is heartening and encouraging, it is important for the industry to grow beyond prototyping and tooling.
The writing is on the wall. EVs are here for good. It’s only a question of time before we see share of business rising to noticeable proportions despite headwinds that will remain in the short term. The entire set of AM maturity currently developed for various other sectors can be deployed to this opportunity. AM can deliver significant benefits in terms of lightweighting, part count reduction, simplification of design as well as performance optimisation to work in parallel with developments on the battery side. As newer methods and fuels for power generation arrive in the market, we see advanced manufacturing technologies as well as advanced materials being a substantial adaption and growth enabler.
FROM ADDITIVE PROTOTYPES TO ADDITIVE SOLUTIONS
We see an interesting opportunity for an integrated digital manufacturing solution that combines additive engineering, additive manufacturing and line optimisation through automation interventions, creating nonlinear value for automotive companies as we move to the new age of commutation. Solution providers, who work with automotive manufacturers to conceptualise and implement not only AM-optimised components & sub-assemblies, and associated redesign of tooling, but also manufacturing lines & supply chains, will not only be unique themselves but will also create differentiating value for automotive companies.
While prototyping will continue to be a significant area of interest when it comes to AM in automotive and will continue to be commoditised further, it is imperative for automotive companies to chalk out a thought-through long term adaption roadmap that includes design optimisation, material substitution, production line enhancements, innovation in supply chain and most importantly customer experience using a range of additive manufacturing technologies and solutions, working closely with a strategic long term AM partner.
 https://3dprint.com/161346/renault-3d-print-engine-components/ and https://www.volvogroup.com/en-en/news/2018/mar/3d-printing-the-future-for-lighter-engines.html