As the world continues to come to grip with the COVID (coronavirus) pandemic, General Motors is betting that the business benefits of their increased and continued involvement with 3D printing will continue long after the crisis subsides.
While traditional manufacturing has either slowed down or stopped completely due to the pandemic, 3D printing has emerged during this time as an agile and effective technology for producing essential personal protective equipment, medical equipment prototypes, and nose swabs for frontline healthcare workers and others.
General Motors for one has been using 3D printed tooling for speed, weight reduction, and cost efficiency on its production lines in the past couple of years, and invested in 17 production-grade Stratasys 3D printers at the end of 2019.
From results of an April 2020 survey done by SME Media:
- 25% of U.S. manufacturing professionals are planning to change their supply chains in response to the pandemic
- Among 11 manufacturing technologies, 3D printing and robotics were the top choices for post-COVID investment.
Having started its additive manufacturing journey back in 1989, General Motors is well-positioned in gaining any competitive advantage compared to other companies. With 3D printers installed in their facilities around the world, GM is increasingly moving beyond prototyping to production-related applications like tooling. In fact, 75 percent of the parts in the prototype of its 2020 Chevrolet Corvette were actually 3D printed.
A big test came in April when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked GM to deliver a 30,000-unit order of critical care ventilators, in conjunction with Ventec Life Systems, by the end of August. Part data for tooling fixtures from the original ventilator manufacturer was first reverse-engineered before it was 3D printed the next day using Stratasys systems. Traditional manufacturing would likely take weeks if not months to complete.
In making the smart investment in 3D printing especially in this new normal of uncertainty and disruption, GM is setting itself up to develop better products faster with manufacturing lines that are more adaptable and less costly.