ON THE CUSP OF CHANGE
By TA News Bureau:
Henry Ford made history and a fortune for himself when his Model-T car trundled across the road over a century ago. The disruption that he brought to the transportation industry saw democratisation of mobility. Now the world is getting ready for yet another disruption following the revolutionary breakthroughs in 3D printing (3DP) of cars and tyres. The innovation in additive manufacturing, as it is also described, will now enable customised car that a buyer can pick up from the dealers after placing the order two days earlier. Tyre maker Michelin is using 3DP to make moulds with very complex features
In another couple of years a car buyer can give his choice of design and style and pick up the vehicle after two days from the local dealer. He can also be certain that the vehicle that he wants would be cheaper, sturdier, lighter with his choice of high quality tyres.
One example of 3D printing (3DP) is that of “Strati” which was delivered in just 44 hours. Moreover, 3DP can also be tweaked to provide specific performance factors that would fulfil his personal desire and government regulations.
Additive manufacturing allows production of vehicles that are stronger and lighter like Strati, the world’s first 3DP Car printed with the help ff Israeli engineers. It was made from an ABS carbon-fibre blend in about 80/20 proportion.
Auto industry research reports say that already 15-20 per cent automotive prototyping is being made through 3DP. Ford, which has been doing 3DP prototypes for over 20 years, is exploring technology for vehicle production.
Analysts say that 3DP automotive market is estimated to touch $2.3 billion in revenue by 2021. Yet there are still many doubters who think 3DP of cars are just hype that would also result in manufacturing slowdown.
But recent developments show that there is consistent reduction in lead-time by 40 to 90 per cent and lowering of cost by up to 60 per cent. These are the reasons for Ford to invest in 3DP.
The auto giant vouches 3DP is indeed a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing. It has touted its benefits, including efficiency, lower costs, and the ability to test prototype parts and components for low-volume models like race cars. It is said the 3DP plastic parts would be lighter leading to greater fuel efficiency.
Following groundbreaking developments in additive manufacturing, European car makers such as Germany’s Daimler and French vehicle maker Puget are focusing on 3-DP to produce spare parts, metal printing processes etc.
In DP a number of micro-automakers are on the race, which got a further boost when Divergent Microfactories recently unveiled the Blade, the world’s first supercar.
Its promoters say that micro-automakers will reshape the auto industry like the way microbreweries. This manufacturing technology will “democratise the auto industry” by making vehicles more affordable. It will also allow new players to enter the competition resulting in an emerging era that can be described as built-to-taste vehicle market.
This is represented by the Blade, the supercar that can hit 60mph in just two seconds, thanks to a 700-horsepower engine and an ultra-light 1,400-lb build . The Blade is based on Divergent Microfactories’ protected node technology that is environment friendly as well.
Richard Hanna, global leader of automotive at PwC, is quoted as saying that there are a lot of companies that are currently exploring specific 3-DP applications for the automobile industry. He thinks there are certainly some good uses of 3DP in the industry. In certain applications, it’s going to be cheaper to 3DP vehicles, particularly in the design stage and fast prototyping.
3-D printing is crossing from a period of hype and experimentation into one of rapid maturation. “Industrial 3D printers, once almost exclusively used for prototyping, are now, on some of America’s factory floors, being rolled out on production lines,” says a PwC report “3D Printing comes of age in US industrial manufacturing.”
According to market research firm IDC, the adoption of 3D printing—both desktop and industrial—continues to rise, with global spending on printers hitting about $11 billion in 2015 and it is forecast to reach about $27 billion by 2019.
The PwC report indicates that as printers expand the portfolio of inks that can be used—most notably metal, ceramics and graphene—3DP will likely continue its march to compete with conventional manufacturing technologies, especially as the expectations and needs for just-in-time and customised products rise. “ Quite simply, 3DP is becoming mainstreamed as we witness the technology cross the threshold from “advanced” to “conventional,” the report said.
A survey by PwC “2016 Disruptive Manufacturing Innovations Survey on 3D printing” reveals many interesting shifts in how 3D printing is being applied by manufacturers from just two years ago.
These include: More making, less tinkering. While roughly the same percentage of US manufacturers are currently adopting 3DP in some way (roughly two-thirds). A higher percentage (51 per cent) is using it for prototyping and final-products than two years ago (35 per cent).
Fewer companies are simply “experimenting” to determine how they may use the technology (17 per cent vs 29 per cent two years earlier). Another observation is that expectations are rising for 3DP for high-volume production in the future. More manufacturers (52 per cent) expect 3DP to be used for high-volume production in the next 3-5 years, compared to two years ago (38 per cent).
Those expecting 3DP to be used for low-volume, specialised products in the next 3-5 years slipped slightly to 67 per cent from 74 per cent two years ago.
The survey showed 3DP is seen to disrupt supply chain and threaten intellectual property. Manufacturers are equally split on what will be 3DP’s most disruptive effect, with 22 per cent saying it will be in restructuring supply chains, and another 22 per cent believes it will pose threats to intellectual property. Eighteen per cent believes that it will change relationships with customers.
The PwC survey has revealed that more manufacturers (42 per cent) now believe that in the next 3-5 years, 3DP will likely be primarily used for high-volume production, up slightly from two years ago, when 38 per cent felt that that was the case.
Most manufacturers still believe that 3DP will be used primarily low-volume, specialised products (67 per cent)—although that percentage slipped slightly from 74 per cent in the PwC survey two years ago.
The most commonly cited barriers in the adoption 3DP among manufacturers are cost and a lack of talent and current expertise (41.3 per cent and 42.1 per cent respectively), followed by uncertainty of quality of the final product (33.1 per cent) and printer speed (25.6 per cent).
Interestingly, manufacturers from PwC 2014 survey had cited quality of the final product by far as the greatest barrier (at 47 per cent), followed by a lack of talent and expertise to exploit the technology, followed by cost concerns.
No matter the trajectory of 3DP adoption a company may be on—from mulling to aggressively expanding—there are probing questions all manufacturers ought to be asking themselves to exploit the technology in ways that both expand their business and make them more competitive.
Some analysts believe 3DP creativity in meeting individuals’ needs will come to the fore, just as quality control did in the age of rolling out sameness. Outsourcing production to low-cost countries such as China may get reduced. The mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world will be forced to re-strategise its manufacturing policies. They should concentrate more on developing local markets.
Micro automakers, who designed and 3D-printed the Blade, and having the capacity to deliver a handful of cars to up to 10,000 per year, are set to emerge competitive players in the global auto market.