A rear view of the Strati, produced by Local Motors. About 75 percent of the vehicle is 3D printed.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- January 19, 2016 -- The subject of 3D printing has been a hot one over the last couple years. The new technology promises to change the way manufacturing is done across the industrial world. A recent report suggests the impact of this new technology on the auto industry could be major.

The report, entitled “Executive Analysis of 3D Printing in the Automotive Industry” comes from Frost & Sullivan. According to the authors, this new technology will generate $4.3 billion in the automotive industry by 2025. It is a technology that will be deeply impactful on the automotive sector, including the aftermarket. Viroop Narla, a research analyst from Frost & Sullivan Mobility Research, said that "Innovative materials such as carbon fibre, metal powders and titanium are expected to radically improve the mechanical, chemical and thermal characteristics of printed products.”

Today, the machines are in their infancy. But as designs improve these machines will be able to products with “superior tolerances and surface finish details," says Narla. Could 3D printing change the collision repair market? The Frost & Sullivan report suggests the aftermarket industry will be one of the sectors that will adopt this technology as it becomes more mainstream and affordable.

Taylor Moss is the Chief Operations Officer with Estify, a company that provides solutions to simplify the estimating process, recently suggested in a post on Linked-In that this technology could “pay big dividends” to collision repair facilities that are willing to jump in.

Moss suggests the first wave of 3D printing in collision repair facilities would be to produce, “fasteners, rivets, bolts, screws, clips, retainers, and any other small parts.” According to Moss, “Typically, repairs get held up most by the smallest and seemingly most insignificant parts, and the ability to 3D print those parts on site would work wonders for using actual OEM specification rivets, screws, clips, and retainers.” Whether or not the OEMs would consider these partsno matter how good the printer or the materials usedto actually meet their specifications is another question.

Moss goes on to point out onsite 3D printing would allow “delays in delivering vehicles to shrivel and diminish, quicken the cycle times, cut rental days, make employees more efficient during their workday. These are the fruits of 3D printing.” Eventually, he says, some shops could even print body panels and structural pieces.

“I'm not sure that is near, but there will likely be a day when you can print all the parts you need for a repair right on site,” says Moss. “And what will that do for efficiency and cost when shipping is eliminated, the need to carry inventory for parts dealers is unnecessary, and the parts can be printed for use when the vehicle is ready for the parts?”

This is a bold and exciting future. According to Moss there are six ways 3D printing will enhance shop workflows:

1. Reduce cycle time

2. Cut average rental days

3. Employees will have less down time at work

4. Make overall repairs cheaper because parts cost less

5. Eliminate incorrect parts orders that cause returns and delays

6. Ensure OEM standard fitment and specification on parts used in repair

Don’t think that any of this is science fiction. A company called Local Motors has set itself the goal of producing a 3D printed car that exceeds US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards by 2017. Not only that, the company has already 3D printed a vehicle in front of a live audience at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago. It will still be some time before the technology full comes of age, but it’s highly likely that you’ll be printing rivets, clips and yes, even body panels, at some point in the not too distant future. You can see Local Motors technology in action using the player below.

 

 

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