GM Turns to 3D Printing for Lightweight Parts and Designs

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【Summary】In order to streamline objectives in this aspect of production, GM is working with California-based Autodesk.

Michael Cheng    Jun 17, 2018 7:05 AM PT
GM Turns to 3D Printing for Lightweight Parts and Designs

Research in cutting-edge materials have increased, which is prioritized by several leading automakers. Toyota (via the Toyota Research Institute) has invested over $35 million in using artificial intelligence to uncover cost-effective materials for carbon-neutral vehicles. Additionally, Ford announced last year it would test large-scale 3D printing for plastic parts.

Another car manufacturer that is taking a similar path in automotive material discovery is General Motors. But instead of leveraging artificial intelligence to get the job done, the company is utilizing 3D printing technology.

GM and Autodesk

The overall goal of GM is to decrease manufacturing costs and reduce the weight of its vehicles. In order to streamline its objectives in this aspect of production, the company is working with California-based Autodesk. The establishment specializes in software for engineers, construction, manufacturing and architecture. In the design world, Autodesk is widely known for AutoCAD – the company's robust flagship design platform.

"Generative design is the future of manufacturing, and GM is a pioneer in using it to lightweight their future vehicles," said Scott Reese, Autodesk senior vice president for manufacturing and construction products.

"Generative technologies fundamentally change how engineering work is done because the manufacturing process is built into design options from the start. GM engineers will be able to explore hundreds of ready-to-be-manufactured, high-performance design options faster than they were able to validate a single design the old way."

Although unrelated to battery enhancement, 3D-printed auto parts can increase an EV's range. Going beyond EVs, the automaker can apply the same design practices in gas-powered vehicles. By decreasing overall mass, which is associated with fuel consumption, GM can boost fuel economy.

Additionally, 3D-printing can decrease wastage of materials during production. Engineers can develop prototypes and build multiple designs with minimal costs. In-house prototyping using 3D-printing software may also help GM protect intellectual property rights associated with its patents and designs.

How Does it Work?

In application, an automotive designer inputs various requirements into the 3D-printing software. Such variables may include types of materials, cost limitations and manufacturing methods. Based on the inputs, the software generates designs for the specific automotive component. At the final stage of the process, the operator is provided with several designs.

GM, along with Autodesk, recently provided a demonstration of the software. The duo successfully generated a modified, stainless steel seat bracket that is almost 50 percent lighter, compared to the original design of the automotive part.

Moreover, the new variant is up to 20 percent stronger. Using the 3D-printing process, engineers were able to decrease the number of components to one, which is a huge improvement, considering the original design used eight components.

"GM has averaged a weight loss of 350 pounds across 14 new vehicles it's introduced since 2016, due in part to increased reliance on rapid prototyping and 3D printing," highlighted Andrew Krok from CNET.

According to data from SmarTech, there is plenty of room for car manufacturers to adopt 3D-printing. At the moment, only 20 percent of the industry has incorporated the technology in automotive prototyping.

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