Cleveland, Ohio – General Motors is looking at the possibility of 3D printing components for production vehicles, an endorsement of a technology often considered too slow for mass production environments.
Working with software company Autodesk, officials with the automaker are studying ways to cut vehicle weight by using additive manufacturing’s (AM’s) geometric freedom – consolidating multiple discrete components into a single piece that would be difficult or impossible to produce with machining, stamping, or injection molding.
“This disruptive technology provides tremendous advancements in how we can design and develop components for our future vehicles to make them lighter and more efficient,” said GM Vice President Ken Kelzer, Global Vehicle Components and Subsystems. “When we pair the design technology with manufacturing advancements such as 3D printing, our approach to vehicle development is completely transformed and is fundamentally different to co-create with the computer in ways we simply couldn’t have imagined before.”
Using Autodesk software, GM engineers designed a proof-of-concept component – a seat bracket – that is 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the 8-piece component it would replace.
“GM will not implement AM where the business case does not make sense. For each application we will evaluate cost and performance benefits as compared to a more traditional manufacturing process,” Darovitz said. “We may choose to invest more to 3D print a part if the added value in terms of performance merits the additional cost. If a traditional manufacturing process is less expensive than 3D printing and there is not substantial performance benefit, then traditional manufacturing processes will be used.”
He added that the cost-benefit analysis goes beyond the material and labor costs of individual components.
”With this seat bracket design, you eliminate the logistic costs of shipping multiple parts between suppliers. You eliminate the capital cost of building stamping dies for each of the stamped parts, and welding costs are eliminated to join the parts together,” he added.
AM parts are still more expensive than traditionally manufactured parts, even with those considerations. However, Darovitz says GM engineers are conducting cost-benefit analyses for multiple parts, and some may be more cost effective than traditional methods.
Scott Reese, Autodesk Senior Vice President for Manufacturing and Construction Products, said, “Generative design is the future of manufacturing, and GM is a pioneer in using it to lightweight their future vehicles. Generative technologies fundamentally change how engineering work is done because the manufacturing process is built into design options from the start.”
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 18 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.