By Kenalyn Ang
SEMA-Member Companies Use Additive Manufacturing in Production
The Airwolf 3D Axiom 3D printer features a large build platform and rapid printing speeds.
Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is a popular and increasingly applied technology in the automotive world. A meticulous, layer-by-layer process, 3D printing offers limitless options and cheaper solutions to manufacturers’ processes.
By scanning an object or designing it in a computer-aided design (CAD) program, individuals can send a precisely crafted data image to a 3D printer, where the machine may print at a range of 7,000 to 20,000 layer thicknesses. Post-processing options such as vapor smoothing and electroplating allow for further refinement and even more precise production. It is possible to use certain types of 3D-printed parts directly in a vehicle, but most often the technology is used for creating exact replicas of products to test for functionality and fit.
An example would be “Project Underdog,” the transformation of a ’72 Ford Maverick this past summer by actor and car hobbyist Sung Kang, the 2015 SEMA Show Gran Turismo award recipient. Kang partnered with three local high-school students to build and remodel the Maverick. Part of the plan was to replace the old inline six-cylinder engine with a new Ford EcoBoost 2.3L from a ’15 Mustang. Using a CAD image of the new engine to print an exact replica in plastic, it became possible to locate the motor mounts so that the new engine would bolt in perfectly. Employing SEMA Garage resources, the team also 3D-printed an oil pan to test for fit in the Maverick.
“The Maverick has always been underappreciated, overlooked and undervalued,” said Kang. “But those who love her are loyal forever. This and the chance to make a difference for these students is something I can stand behind.”
The 3D-printed engine block used in the Ford Maverick during Project Underdog was tested for fit before the old engine was replaced with a new Ford EcoBoost. As it turned out, the engine was just a bit too wide, so the engine compartment was modified accordingly.
The collaboration united old and young car enthusiasts who have fused together traditional and modern technology throughout the building process. During the SEMA Show, the Maverick was displayed at Pennzoil’s booth, with the plan to later auction the vehicle—with proceeds going to the SEMA Memorial Scholarship fund. Additionally, as a result of Project Underdog, SEMA Garage and Sung Kang made the possibilities of additive manufacturing more obvious to specialty-equipment manufacturers while encouraging youths to develop an interest and passion for engineering and the automotive industry.
In addition to its role in Project Underdog, the SEMA Garage has assisted its members with product design through the use of the Garage’s 3D printer, printing functional and nonfunctional parts such as body panel parts, air ducts and more. A larger Fortus 450mc printer, acquired in the spring of 2016, has significantly increased SEMA Garage capabilities. Last year, the Garage printed more than 120 prototypes for its members.
“The addition of a Fortus 450mc to the SEMA Garage facilities has really helped our members,” said Mike Spagnola, vice president of OEM and product-development programs. “Being able to print out prototypes before manufacturing their products has allowed our members to eliminate unnecessary costs, save time and leverage an emerging technology they might not be able to afford on their own.”
Since 3D printing has gained momentum in the automotive industry, the presence of additive-manufacturing exhibitors at the SEMA Show has begun to increase. This year, the Show included exhibitors offering new-model 3D printers and a variety of supplies as well as consultation services, equipment rental and training in the additive-manufacturing business.
This is Mishimoto Automotive’s 3D-printed MAF housing for its Camaro SS stock intake project. Mishimoto utilizes 3D printing to generate prototypes for testing and to shorten product-development time.
Companies displaying included Stratasys, which offered 3D printers for desktops, larger items, and print materials as well as strategic consulting services for attendees. Established in 1988, the company introduced fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology, one method of 3D printing in which layers are slowly built from the bottom up by heating and extruding thermoplastic filament. Stratasys has printed numerous products for the automotive industry such as intake manifolds and superchargers. The company prints in many materials but most commonly polycarbonate due to durability, cost and aesthetics.
“There are multiple options,” said Chas Sullivan, an application engineer at a California Stratasys office. “Because it’s a real thermoplastic, you can melt it and fuse it together or print parts and bond them together with a solvent later.”
SEMA and Stratasys have collaborated in many endeavors, most notably and with Project Underdog. Both the SEMA Garage and Stratasys utilize FDM technology for SEMA members and recently for the Maverick engine build.
Another print company that presented at the 2016 SEMA Show was Rapid Scan 3D, which distributed software and printers from companies such as Artec3D, Solutionix, PolyWorks, Airwolf 3D, Stratasys and more. Airwolf 3D, based in Southern California, exhibited an array of newly designed 3D printers suitable for hobbyists, educators and automotive engineers.
“For me it’s the transformation that’s exciting,” said Airwolf 3D founder and CEO Erick Wolf.
3D printers can be used to generate intricate products or prototypes, including working gear assemblies and other complex forms. A Formlabs printer using acrylic plastic material printed these.
The four-year-old business offered workshops, printer demos and its latest products at the Show. Designed for speed and efficiency, Airwolf 3D’s desktop printers can accommodate more than 40 material choices, operating at printing speeds of up to 250 mm per second and travel speeds as high as 400 mm per second, with a resolution of 20 microns. Designed with a large build platform, Airwolf 3D’s HD series can print large models without having to print in multiple pieces.
“A CNC machine could put you back $60,000–$80,000, but for $15,000, this 3D printer could fit right in with your tools,” Wolf said.
Produced by Stratasys, the Fortus 450mc in the SEMA Garage is available as a benefit to SEMA members for prototyping or generating one-off pieces at an affordable cost.
Other 3D-print businesses that exhibited at the SEMA Show this year included returning companies Formlabs and FARO Technologies. Formlabs featured its Form 2 desktop-size 3D printer and materials for use in a variety of industries. The company’s unique material product development sets it apart.
“There are other types of materials that can be used [when 3D printing], but our material has to be a liquid at room temperature,” said J.P. Shipley, global events manager at Formlabs. “We’re taking the base chemical of a finished plastic and keeping it liquid at room temperature, then using a photo process method with a UV laser to cure it. We are catalyzing a chemical bonding process.”Additional accessories include cartridges and software compatible with the company’s printers, as well as service plans for purchased machines.
FARO Technologies is a source for tools that enable manufacturers to measure any object, no matter how intricate its shape or size. The company offered stations, scanners such as the FARO Design ScanArm, and software to allow individuals the capability to prototype, scan parts without existing CAD models and create an object’s digital files.
Additive manufacturing continues to grow increasingly pertinent in the automotive industry as more companies utilize CAD software when designing a product before production, often through CNC machinery or laser cutting. Mishimoto Automotive, producer of performance cooling products, is an example of a company that has incorporated 3D printing into its product design and research.
“Our engineers are just able to accomplish so much more than if we didn’t have this technology on hand,” said Mishimoto Senior Public Relations Coordinator Ricky Nietubicz.
Formlab's Form 2 is the company's latest and most advanced desktop 3D printer.
The technology helps bring parts to market faster, explained John Petty, Mishimoto production manager. By printing prototypes, Mishimoto is able to shorten the time between conception of an idea and production of an item available for purchase.
“The 3D printer is essentially like another set of hands, because the engineer can be designing and engineering something else while the 3D printer is working,” Nietubicz said. “It’s almost like another resource. As these technologies progress and advance and it costs less to make and create the parts faster, it’s just going to make it even more of a no-brainer.”
Using the technology, companies can ensure accurate measurements and test the fit of products when placed in a car. Automobile enthusiasts and professionals alike are able to print and test individual pieces before committing to production, saving time, resources and money. With a wide array of print material choices now available, 3D-printed car parts can be durable and serviceable, too, as it is possible to use 3D-printed parts directly in a vehicle.
Including 3D printing as a step in production can help eliminate cost and time. 3D printing is an ideal method for making one-off products for customized project vehicles and for creating exact replicas of key components so fitment can be accurately predicted.
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