Mexico’s Automotive Sector to Benefit from Additive ManufacturingBy MBN Staff | Thu, 04/28/2022 - 10:30
Q: What has been Stratasys’ role in the adoption of additive manufacturing by the automotive manufacturing industry?
A: The automotive industry is interesting because its production volumes are large. The sector has also been using additive manufacturing longer than any other industry; some of the first adopters were car manufacturers in the Detroit metropolitan area, which used it to address prototyping problems. Prototyping is the necessary evil of creating a product but the more prototyping a company does, the more it prevents future problems. Prototyping allows developers to identify potential production problems that many customers will face. Without prototyping, companies can only make assumptions based on data.
The automotive sector produces a new vehicle every 50 seconds, so the industry has little time to fix unexpected issues. It needs to prototype. 3D printing has helped the industry prototype products for over 30 years, allowing it to identify future problems. For example, a test drive of a prototyped vehicle can provide manufacturers with live feedback from focus groups, allowing the company to give customers what they really want.
Q: How has Mexico adapted to additive manufacturing and how open have companies been to this solution?
A: Mexico has been a hub for manufacturing rather than design, which happens mainly in California or Detroit. One of the biggest challenges today’s automotive sector faces is the limited availability of talent. Recent engineering and design graduates are not enough to cover the talent demand.
Mexico can use additive manufacturing for printing surrogate parts (non-functional substitutes of high-value parts). By 3D printing surrogate parts, factories do not have to wait for parts to be delivered before starting the prototyping process, shortening production time and cost. Many of the challenges the sector is facing require new methods of assembly and the best way to support assembly is through surrogate parts.
Q: What role is additive manufacturing playing in the supply chain crisis?
A: During assembly, additive manufacturing helps to print all the needed components while the supply chain catches up. While 3D printing raises the price per piece, it prevents supply chains from stopping.
In tooling, the main problem is the low volumes involved and the high value of the pieces, which is a problem because few suppliers are willing to manufacture only a few pieces. Through additive manufacturing, a supplier can provide the design and send it to a printer, avoiding complications.
Q: What are the benefits of investing in tooling innovations and services?
A: In tooling, additive manufacturing saves money and time and provides high-quality products; Numerous materials can be replaced by less expensive alternatives during tooling. For example, aluminum can be replaced by polymers or plastic components with the same functionality. Additive manufacturing is always faster than other alternatives. A piece that would take five days to produce through other means can be printed in 10 hours.
Tooling can also help companies achieve better quality. For example, we are seeing numerous model changes during the transition of ICE vehicles to EVs. This change involves the entire vehicle and if a part is missed, it should be adjusted. During this process, 3D printing the necessary tools can help perform these changes faster, leading to products of better quality.
Q: What are some of the benefits of using additive manufacturing during end-use-parts production?
A: In end-use parts, the balance shifts to high volume and low value. In these cases, additive manufacturing is only convenient with highly-complex products that cannot be manufactured following traditional methods.
On the other hand, spare parts for electrified vehicles have a high-value, low-volume application because these vehicles undergo constant customization according to the end user’s preference. This is a challenge for the auto industry that could be addressed through additive manufacturing.
Q: What are Stratasys’ end-to-end solutions for adapting this technology across automotive manufacturing plants?
A: For prototyping, we use PolyJet technology, which offers high fidelity, a beautiful surface finish and a variety of colors and materials, making it ideal for high-end concepts. For tooling, we offer FDM technology, which is an absolute game changer because it produces strong materials and accurate, large parts. Ford and GM are using this technology for tooling support in their manufacturing plants. Ford has one of our machines in every powertrain plant in North America and GM is working on a similar strategy.
We also developed SAF, a power-based technology that offers a rougher surface finish than traditional injection molds, for the end-used market. Finally, we have developed Origin for resins that are designed to last for a long time. This technology produces components with a high-end surface finish and incredible toughness.
Q: What is the outlook for additive manufacturing in the Mexican market?
A: Tooling will continue to permeate the market because there are numerous opportunities for this application. Every plant should have an industrial printer because manufacturers need both traditional technologies and 3D solutions to address their tooling needs.
Stratasys is a global leader in additive technology solutions for industries including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, design, education and healthcare.