The enemy of innovative 3D printing in the automotive industry: the project buyer

Investors believe that traditional automakers cannot keep pace with new entrants to the automotive industry during a time of explosive innovation: autonomous vehicles, electrics, connected platforms, and more. Agility is not the strength of monolithic enterprises steeped in historic paths. functioning and, therein, are considered “slow to play” compared to newbies who beta test new features on public roads. For the most part, this preconception is flawed since these traditional manufacturers have the working capital to fuel innovation, as startups struggle to survive long enough to eventually see production income.

However, a fundamental function of these well-established companies could affect their competitiveness in the years to come: the project-specific buyer of the company’s purchasing department. Much like a Clydesdale, this blind workhorse is rewarded for its focused attention to the task ahead – particularly a lower BOM cost for the vehicle or system – and this myopic view is considered an advantage over engineers who might be distracted by new technology. Yes, sometimes the glorified “BOM Manager” is provided with some algorithmic consideration for intangible costs that are desirable (eg, lower weight), but not always and usually a minor consideration. Cut costs. Period.

There the buyer looks at additive manufacturing or 3D printing options, rejects the prima fascia based on the cost per part of THIS part, and the dogmatic society misses the holistic view of multiple savings unlike the environment. creative of a startup. Let’s take a look at these different use cases and understand the incremental value – upstream (i.e. before production), midway and downstream – that could be achieved in total if trained staff and printers were acquired.

Upstream value

This is the most well-known value for additive manufacturing, but there is more here than what we see:

Prototypes: Given the history of 3D printing, this is the most well-known use of Agile development: creating a “minimum viable product” (MVP), testing it with users and stakeholders, and adapting the design based on feedback. Yes, definitely a use worth noting that helps the one-time engineering budget, but frankly it’s eclipsed in the big picture.

Templates and production tools: “There are also huge savings and ‘speed to market’ value in additive manufacturing for factory applications such as tooling, jigs, fixtures and assembly aids,” says Blake Teipel , CEO of Essentium. “If you look at the long pole in the tent to put a vehicle on the market, that’s tooling. In some cases, it takes 52 weeks for a tool to be designed, marketed, built and machined. “Some BOM managers certainly translate speed to market into dollars per part, but rarely. In addition, the waste created to qualify a part is not taken into account, including the time of qualification, elimination, etc. has generally not been measured. Industry experts estimate that 60% of all manufacturing activity is waste, which is not properly addressed from the start.

This premise was reinforced during the Quick Pivot in 2020, where automakers like Ford and General Motors helped with fans, face shields, and other PPE for which they had almost no history, design, or history. tooling. If they walked on that 52-week schedule, 2021 survivors would only see the first ventilators now. “We were going as fast as possible,” said former Ford executive chairman Bill Ford Jr, which they did via 3D printing with 3M and GE Healthcare.

Intermediate value

The holy grail for 3D printing has always been volume manufacturing and, given a few technological breakthroughs, it’s now a reality. But the automotive industry lags behind other industries like aerospace on adoption, in part because (you guessed it) not all the savings were recognized:

Low volume manufacturing: Typically, the cost of production tooling is amortized over a million parts, and in it plays a small role. But for small series, this price becomes high. “There are a lot of vehicles that are produced in less than 5,000 volumes,” says Teipel. “How many Cadillac ATC manual transmission vehicles are produced each year?” Additive manufacturing is a catalyst to facilitate niche executions. And even top racers like Ford’s F150 have over a million combinations to build, so some parts are still low end.

Lightweight: Fuel economy has become a hot topic these days with electric vehicles (EVs) and Biden’s Green New Deal. “We are running out of time. Experts tell us we have 10 years to get on the right track, otherwise global warming will reach catastrophic levels by 2050,” writes Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation. does that mean for BOM 2026 planning? What will a lighter part be worth for a chief technology engineer in five years? Good question. “You can print lattice structures, honeycomb structures? bee, hollow structures; you really start using additive manufacturing of a part with a stronger material and a more solid shape and, in that, decrease the total weight, “says Teipel. Meet or exceed consumption standards Corporate fuel average certainly means real money to businesses, but is customer demand for fuel savings being captured? Usually not adequately.

Functional safety: These same truss structures in combination with special materials provide extremely strong parts with areas of deformation. “The aerospace industry has jumped on additive materials for three main reasons,” says Teipel. “Cost competitiveness, lightness and functional safety. They could manufacture parts for the cabins that could pass the V0 combustion test and that were performing well enough to meet their flame, smoke and toxicity requirements. Shockingly, something as basic as security is often not a multiplier for buyers.

Supply chain disruption: Nuclear collapse in Japan? Does the supplier go bankrupt due to the pandemic or the 2008 economic collapse? Storms in Texas just limited some plastics for auto trim parts? Suez Canal blocked? Each of these could cause temporary or permanent disruption, which could force a quick pivot to be manufactured elsewhere. This means loss of income if the construction of the vehicle stops, but also requires shipping, calibration, testing, inspection, etc. heavy tooling. Lots of cost with little agility. These unpredictable events create nightmares to capture the real costs.

Unusual shapes: Those who have worked with castings know their limits: some shapes are either extremely difficult or downright impossible. And large parts create other difficulties, which result in sub-optimal designs and / or associated labor. “There is a recent automotive application that normally consists of two injection molded parts for the left half and the right HVAC half, each having two halves that need to be inspected, assembled and re-inspected,” explains Teipel. “The parts are basically the size of two trash cans and usually require intermediate labor. Instead, we can print them directly, saving right / left half, joining process and inspection process. This is the beauty of additive manufacturing: complexity doesn’t adapt to size. Headliner and cargo liners can cost thousands of dollars, in part because of manufacturing difficulties. And the costs can increase if the large parts require certain CNC factories capable of processing large blocks of aluminum or steel, etc.

Downstream value

The part of the equation that is least likely to be factored into the BOM manager’s decision is maintenance.

Parts operations: Time for a math exercise. If there are, on average, 30,000 parts on a given vehicle, and for each given year of the U.S. market alone, it is estimated that 260 models are offered with a 15-year lifespan, how many parts in a given year must be equipped. stored and maintained? How much inventory should be stored at dealerships and service areas around the world? Billions. And don’t forget Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, etc.

Obsolescence: When removing tooling from storage to create parts, the manufacturer overproduces for efficiency. But when that part is no longer needed, that extra inventory becomes unaccounted for waste.

Parts availability: Low volume parts are barely inventoried, so when the car breaks down, end customers can wait a long time for a part to arrive at the repair shop. And wait. And curse. So aside from the direct cost, it is the opportunity cost of customer satisfaction that rings the cash register as well as car rental costs.

At the end

The Buyer will have done his job. While not advertised in Superbowl commercials similar to the infamous Clydesdale, it will have arrived at the desired destination with requested delivery. However, if the blinders had been removed, the Buyer would have seen the full financial picture of 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

And the possibility of printing money.

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