3D Printing and the Cars of Tomorrow

Three-dimensional printing has come a long way over the past few years, allowing both consumers and corporations the chance to print a wide range of items. Could it go one step further and change the cars of tomorrow?
Ford is one of the first automakers to explore the technology and began testing the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer in March 2017. In a press release, Ford said the printer could be a “breakthrough” that provides a “more efficient, affordable way to create tooling, prototype parts and components for low-volume vehicles such as Ford Performance products, as well as personalized car parts.”
Those are some lofty goals, but what are the realities of 3D printing? Can it go above and beyond Ford’s goals?
“I think if you follow Moore’s law and you have this continuing advancement of the technology, then yes, it’s eventually going to happen,” said Frank Schwartz, principal and founder of Advanced Automotive Consulting Services. “What they’re capable of doing these days is absolutely amazing. But actually using 3D printing for mass-produced volume parts, I think we’re a ways from that.”

Personalized Car Parts

Automakers aren’t the only ones that could use a 3D printer to manufacture custom parts. As the technology matures, consumers could theoretically do the same, presenting a new challenge for connected automobiles.
“[The auto industry] is concerned about the whole right to repair,” said Sam Lauzon, a senior engineer in research at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). “If people are going to be able to legally repair and manipulate their cars’ electronics or vehicle systems, how will that impact the safety and security of them? Right now if you want to replace the transmission in your garage, go right ahead, there’s nothing illegal about that. But if we start adding security to your transmission and you could possibly 3D print that at home, what are the ramifications of that?”
Lauzon said this is especially problematic if consumers wish to print their own parts of autonomous vehicles.
“If people are doing things like that, they have to ensure the parts are good,” he said.

More Exciting Designs

Jeffrey Tumlin, principal at Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation planning consultancy, hopes that 3D printing will allow automakers to build more attractive automobiles.
“One of the areas in which I think 3D printing becomes very interesting is in that lower speed urban vehicle,” said Tumlin. “You design a little jewel box of a 20mph vehicle using 3D printing, which I think could create an explosion of an amazing design thinking that could bring some joy back into automotive design.”
Tumlin referred to automobiles as the “most complex corner of the entire design world,” with immense safety and liability concerns.
“One of the things I find disappointing is that the designers are still trying to have the car – one car – serve all possible functions,” Tumlin added. “That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to own a car in the future. I’m going to call up the right tool for the job. If I have a hot date, I’m going to want a very different vehicle than if I’m going on a camping trip.”

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.

Congestion Conundrum: Can Smart Technology Free Our Roads and Parking Lots?

Congestion has proven to be a far bigger problem than automakers and city planners ever predicted. Global auto sales are fast approaching 90 million annually, adding to the 1 billion vehicles already on the road. That number could double over the next few decades, increasing the challenges endured by billions of commuters worldwide.
Few solutions have yet to materialize, but many hope that smart and autonomous technologies will reduce the need for more vehicles. For example, a group of salesmen could share one autonomous vehicle that chauffeurs them around in a timely, well-calculated manner. In crowded cities, consumers could rely on shared vehicle services to commute to and from work.
That’s the fantasy, at least. But is it realistic?
“I think that as cars become smarter, some of that will help resolve traffic issues,” said Dillon Blake, senior director of business development at Runzheimer, a business vehicle technology and solution provider. “Most traffic jams, you can contribute that to the person 10 miles ahead of you that hit their brakes unnecessarily and the chain reaction leads to a nice big traffic jam. If autonomous vehicles don’t have that same level of error, traffic will continue to flow better.”

New Tech, Same Number of Cars

Alternative mobility expert Lukas Neckermann is hopeful that congestion will be reduced, but he does not expect smart technology to make an impact without a drastic change in transportation.
“If we just make all of our vehicles autonomous, then we have autonomous vehicle congestion,” said Neckermann “Until we actually get to the point that our vehicles change in terms of their usage characteristics – in terms of, frankly, the way they’re designed and shaped and structured – we haven’t solved the problem.”
The good news, Neckermann added, is that automakers are beginning to introduce self-driving vehicle concepts that could make it easier and more convenient for consumers to share their rides.
“You’re going to see all kinds of different vehicle types,” said Neckermann. “Take a look at Easymile, Navya, Next Future Transportation [and] Local Motors. You have a whole different breed of vehicle that’s going to solve that urban congestion problem.”

Don’t Skimp on Infrastructure

Automakers could develop the best, most efficient cars in the world, but if the road infrastructure remains the same, congestion will still be a problem.
“As you become better with autonomous vehicles, hopefully these major metropolitan areas are taking the time and investing in their infrastructure for their public transportation,” said Blake. “I live in Austin, Texas, [and] while it’s a technology mecca of amazingness here, our public transportation is terrible. You have no choice but to drive your own car. Congestion is only going to get worse because we’re adding bodies to the city but we’re not adding a better public transportation-type solution, so people have to drive.”
Blake believes that autonomous technology will improve the situation, but it’s only one piece in a very complex puzzle.
“If you don’t want people on the road, build a great infrastructure,” Blake concluded. “And if you don’t have a great infrastructure, be ready for some traffic.”

About the author:

Louis Bedigian is an experienced journalist and contributor to various automotive trade publications. He is a dynamic writer, editor and communications specialist with expertise in the areas of journalism, promotional copy, PR, research and social networking.

GM: Pressing challenges in variant management

Dr. Sankar Nallapati
Senior Engineering Specialist, GM

Dr. Sankar Nallapati
Senior Engineering Specialist, GM

we.CONECT Market Research & Intelligence consulted Dr. Sankar Nallapati from GM to outline ongoing challenges in automotive variant management. In the interview he deals with the question of how to balance the performance requirements between two vehicle platforms sharing common targets and parts and more issues regarding variant management.
Dr. Nallapati works in the Body CAE Closures group at GM as a Senior Engineering Specialist. He is a certified Black Belt in Design for Six Sigma Process and has published several technical papers in reputed conferences and journals. He earned his BSME from Osmania University, India, MSME from UK, Executive MBA from MSU and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from WV. He is also a licensed Professional Engineer in Michigan, USA.

According to your experience, how is the automotive industry affected by the call for effective Vehicle Configuration Lifecycle Management? What are the benefits for such?

Dr. Sankar Nallapati: The automotive industry is greatly affected by the lack of well-structured change and configuration management processes. In my opinion, the auto industry needs a strong and robust vehicle configuration life cycle management specifically for future self-driving cars. I think the main benefits will lie in improving the product quality and safety, thus reducing costly errors, eliminating lots of rework and allowing the capturing of latest product changes.

In which way are you and your company influenced by modern innovations impacting the automotive and variant management landscape? Please indicate examples.

Modern innovations in the infotainment technology sector have impacted greatly in the automotive industry and variant management landscape. Specifically, there are recent advances in navigation systems – driver alerts, speedometer readings, collision alerts and likewise.

What are the specific challenges around modular concepts & lean engineering? Please explain.

The main challenge is the question of how to balance the performance requirements between two vehicle platforms sharing the common parts and targets. This means that we need to meet the packaging constraints between two platforms. Furthermore, there is the need to optimize mass and increase fuel efficiency. Removing certain components is also a big challenge when sharing modular concepts.

Taking a professional view from the outside: Which key influential factors will need to be taken into account in the next 1-3 years with respect to variant management?

Derivatives of variants, such as short wheel based and long wheel based influence modular systems strategy. There is the question of how variant management will drive the standardization of parts and global common designs. And how will variant management evolve and implement global work share?

Which expectations do you have regarding the Smart Automotive Variant.con? Which outcomes and benefits do you expect to gain from the exchange with participating OEMs, suppliers & organizations?

I hope to discuss with peers about the question of how future CAD simulations will influence automotive design. And if we are able to launch or access simulation reports through CAD apps from cell phones.

Is there a recent issue or topic related to variant management in automotive that has caught your attention? Please tell us about it.

I think it is very interesting to capture how market uncertainty impacts future platform investments in terms of new variant creation.

Thanks a lot for this interview! We are looking forward to a thriving event!

Interview partners: Serina Gummert and Dr. Sankar Nallapati

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Configit A/S on Configuration Lifecycle Management

At Smart Automotive Variant.CON in Berlin we.CONECT spoke with Prof. Dr. Henrik Reif Andersen from Configit A/S about the need for integration in variant management and the issues regarding corporate silo systems that do not communicate with each other. Especially automotive product complexity is growing rapidly, so manufacturers need solutions that help keeping up with innovation without threatening production flow. Prof. Dr. Reif recommends solutions that accompany the full product life cycle - from the early product development phase to mass production up to selling and servicing the product.

Interview with PROSTEP AG: Optimizing complex products

At Smart Automotive Variant.CON in Berlin we.CONECT spoke with Dr. Karsten Theis, PROSTEP AG, about providing data to identify dependencies between product components and options. Collecting and analyzing data simplifies error search and helps to identify contradictory configurations. Software solutions in this area enable manufacturers to provide a huge number of product variants risk-free.

MBTECH: High product variety with low component numbers?

At Smart Automotive Variant.CON in Berlin we.CONECT spoke with Ralf Schäfer, Principal of MBTECH, about a modular strategy to avoid the generation of variance at a early product stage. Industries with big product volumes like automotive, software or consumer industries experience problems in quality and cost due to increasing product complexity. This is where modular product design comes in: The main advantage of modular product design is that it does not manage increasing variance but avoids it in the first place.