Volkswagen’s use of 3D printing shows great promise for enduring parts and a more sustainable future.
The automotive industry isn’t known for rapid change, but it’s changing at an impressive rate of late. Pivoting hard away from ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) technologies and electric propulsion is the most visible change. Still, behind the scenes, another transformation is taking place, the move to 3D printing for both metals and plastics driven by forward-looking companies on both fronts like Volkswagen.
The result of these trends will be a vastly more sustainable industry that provides potentially better long-term vehicle support, more variety, and, eventually, cars that drive you where you want to go.
HP just released a fascinating report on how massively 3D printing is changing a lot of industries. Still, Automotive stands out initially as the industry in the most need and the most aggressively moving to change forever what they build and how they build it.
Let’s talk about that this week.
Massive Expansion In Additive Manufacturing
According to this latest study done by 3dbpm Research, the parts manufacturing business is moving aggressively to additive manufacturing methods like 3D Printing. This report covering France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK showcased a broad understanding of the benefits of Additive Manufacturing, with 96% of the respondents indicating it already helps them get their finished products to market significantly faster.
The overall benefit for 3D printing wasn’t lost on the audience either, with 91% of those responding indicating this process allows them to produce parts on-demand more effectively. This last is critical to keeping aging vehicles and equipment in service without prematurely having to obsolete and replace the related product, reducing the load on landfills by allowing this aging hardware to remain when parts shortages would have otherwise forced its premature replacement.
One particular benefit was during the pandemic, where 79% indicated that Additive Manufacturing allowed them to produce needed parts that otherwise might not have been available for an extended period due to supplier shutdowns. This unique benefit should build on the recent Biden Administration support for the Right To Repair effort, which has broad user support.
Right To Repair only works if the repair shop can get the needed parts, but current and future 3D printers coupled with vendor licensing programs and schematics for parts should allow the repair industry, even the manufacturer’s direct, to take advantage of this coming repair revenue stream.
Volkswagen’s Signature Pivot
Volkswagen screwed up with diesel engines, but their rapid pivot to electrical propulsion has been inspired. VW uses 3D Printing to rapidly pivot from the ICE technology used to define automobiles to the electric and autonomous driving technology of the near-term future.
Working closely with HP to update and transform manufacturing into a more efficient, more agile, and far more rapid process so that Volkswagen can play more effectively and quickly pivot to industry changes in the future, VW has reimagined itself as a leader in this Automotive industry pivot on top of being one of the leading firms to provide viable autonomous driving eventually.
According to HP, Volkswagen is the only car company using 3D printing in its production process. The firm is considered a leader, suggesting that others like BMW, also known for manufacturing leadership, will follow Volkswagen’s lead. Expected to be printing up to 100,000 parts in 3D printers by the end of 2025, the parts will have several unique advantages. These advantages will include a 50% reduction in weight for the 3D printed parts with secondary benefits of longer battery life and better crash survivability.
VW didn’t just start using 3D parts, as they started 25 years ago as a pioneer, making them one of the most knowledgeable users of 3D printing technology, and with long-time partners Siemens and HP, a clear market leader in the use of 3D additive manufacturing.
The 4th Industrial Revolution
HP’s latest report and VW’s huge 3D Printing commitment showcases that significant advancements are changing manufacturing dramatically. This change is particularly noticeable in the automotive segment, which is undergoing massive changes in how cars will be designed and built.
The result should be devices and vehicles that are more sustainable, have longer service lives, are less expensive to customize and build, and approach fully customized future objects that can be entirely 3D printed. 3D Printing is a significant part of the coming 4th Industrial revolution; this announcement and reports showcase that HP, Siemens, and VW aren’t planning to be left at home wondering what might have been.