3D printing technology is not suitable for high-volume production - after all, the costs are there. However, it has an irreplaceable advantage for special needs in small quantities.
For vehicle manufacturers' R&D departments, 3D printing technology can transform CAD design models into solid parts without the need to go through the mould step, saving time and costs.
For an ultra-luxury brand such as Bentley, the 3D printing facility will allow for the production of small quantities of parts and the individual needs of customers.
Bentley recently invested £3 million to double its 3D printing capacity within its Crewe, UK factory. In 2021 alone, the number of parts manufactured by the high-tech equipment reaches 15,000.
These components range from the traditional tools needed to make accessories for the Bentley Blower Continuum, to production line aids such as light polishing blocks commonly used in woodworking workshops. Even protective masks for epidemics.
A favourite of the R&D department, 3D printing technology allows CAD models to be converted into solid parts when designing and building prototypes, such as engine models and aerodynamic wind tunnel models to scale with the original car.
Bentley also makes accessories for models that have broken records in the Pikes Peak Challenge.
In addition ultra-luxury brands like Bentley make a very large number of personalised models for their customers. Previously this was very time consuming and costly work, but with Bentley's increased 3D printing capacity, more car parts are being made to expand the personalisation possibilities for customers' vehicles.
The 3D printing machine installed at Bentley's headquarters factory is capable of saving 50% of the cost of parts. Running around the clock, the machine can produce parts in over 25 material types.
Jaguar Land Rover, also a British brand, used a Labrador named Yogi in the development of the new Land Rover Defender model.
Yogi was tasked with jumping up and down on the luggage compartment of the Defender model, and the test team recorded its relevant data through the simultaneous use of pressure mapping technology as a reference for real life usage scenarios, including the pressure applied by the dog's paws and foot pads.
Land Rover used 3D printing technology to launch a model of Yogi's 'dog paw' to help with development. The final result was a paint setting for the Defender's rear bumper that, after up to 5,000 cycles of wear and tear testing, will achieve a durability of around ten years, taking into account the scenarios in which pets get in and out of the car.
For Porsche in Germany, the 3D manufacturing process has already been used in several areas. This includes 3D printed full bucket seats for the 911 and 718 series models, with some of the central areas of the seats (i.e. the seat cushion and backrest surfaces) produced using 3D printers.
In 2020 Porsche is even working with Mahle on a completely new application of 3D printing - the production of high-performance engine pistons for the Porsche 911 flagship GT2 RS, the highest performance Porsche production model available.
The pistons manufactured by 3D printing technology weigh 10% less than conventional production forged pistons. Achieving lighter weight in the most critical drive components equates to a direct improvement in the engine's high rpm power performance.
In addition the 3D printed pistons surprisingly perform better than conventional pistons. The reason for this is that the 911 GT2 RS, as a high-performance model, places extremely high demands on the heat resistance of the pistons, and 3D printing allows the integration of a closed cooling duct inside the piston head, which is not possible with conventional processes.
The new, lighter pistons increase the engine's speed, reduce the temperature load on the pistons and optimise combustion, which allows the 911 GT2 RS 700Ps twin-turbo engine to increase its output by up to another 30 Ps while increasing efficiency.
3D printing technology is like a tool for artistic creation. It uses digital model files as a basis for constructing objects by printing layer by layer from bondable materials such as powdered metal or plastic. With advantages such as process streamlining and production cost savings, the possibilities are endless.