The Automotive Industry Goes 3D

(DGIwire) – Imagine paying a visit to an auto dealership, specifying a set of custom features for a new car, and having the dealer use 3D printing to fabricate them right there on the lot. Sound fanciful? It’s one future scenario raised in a recent article in IEEE Spectrum on potential new directions for 3D printing in the automotive industry. Today, of course, 3D printing is indeed beginning to be incorporated by the auto industry—although on a more humble scale for the foreseeable future.

As IEEE Spectrum notes, vehicle customization could one day become sufficiently advanced so that a roadster and a minivan could both be printed out on the same 3D printer just by tweaking the software. Additionally, thousands of custom and replacement parts could be created much faster and more cheaply than what is possible today. According to SmarTech Markets, an analyst for the 3D printing sector, the automotive industry’s adoption of 3D printing is projected to increase from $365.4 million in 2015 to $1.8 billion in 2023.

“Although nobody can predict with certainty how pervasive 3D printing will eventually become in the automotive industry, it is clear that the technology is here for good,” says Mark J. Cola, President and CEO of Sigma Labs, Inc. “Yet as auto manufacturers increasingly incorporate 3D printing into their existing manufacturing facilities, a number of challenges need to be mastered—including being able to integrate quality assurance into the production line.”

Sigma Labs has developed a proprietary, patent-protected, quality assurance software suite called PrintRite3D® that transforms the 3D printing process. In contrast to traditional quality assurance that is performed after-the-fact, PrintRite3D® works in real-time to assist quality inspectors in sorting acceptable from suspect components.

The PrintRite3D® suite benefits automotive companies that are 3D-printing metal parts in three aspects. The first involves metallurgy: in addition to optimizing the structure/property/parameter qualities of metal parts, Sigma Labs’ software allows engineers to assess each part’s microstructure—scanning and collecting data on potential weaknesses (like “pores” in the metal). The second benefit involves geometry: the software helps capture images of every layer of metal as it is being incorporated into the part; this data, available digitally, gives inspectors the ability to detect any distortion or misalignment as parts are made and intervene in real-time. Finally, the software enhances a company’s productivity by collecting Big Data regarding the performance of multiple 3D printers at multiple locations into a single database.

With a core facility in Santa Fe, NM, Sigma Labs offers clients a comprehensive one-stop shop for 3D metal printing and process engineering; alternately, Sigma Labs can offer its suite to clients at their own facilities.

“The use of 3D printing in the automotive sector has the potential to transform how companies design, build and sell road vehicles, and we are excited to be offering technology that can ensure these vehicles are of the highest possible quality,” adds Cola.

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