The flexibility of 3D printing has allowed General Motors to pivot from producing new vehicles such as the first-ever mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette to COVID-19 medical devices and supplies in days instead of months.
When the physical version of the mid-engine Corvette came together for the first time, 75 percent of the parts were 3D printing. The level of detailing of the 3D printing components allowed the team to have a real evaluation of what a production vehicle would resemble and how all the parts would fit together.
Issues and modifications could be made early on thanks to 3D printing and resulted in a significant reduction in development time. Corvette-first features like the right-hand drive for international markets and the retractable hardtop were also tested extensively and implemented with the use of 3D printing.
With their expertise in additive manufacturing for its core automotive business, General Motors has quickly pivoted towards the production of medical supplies by focusing – manufacturing, prototyping, and production.
Most of the tools are 3D-printed “nests” or fixtures that hold parts in place during assembly at GM’s facility and had been reverse-engineered from part data received from Ventec in Seattle and Hamilton in Switzerland respectively.
Having been involved in using additive manufacturing for rapid prototyping since 1989, GM was able to apply that expertise in the development and production of face shields.
With the dire need for face shields at local hospitals, the team started with an open-sourced design before quickly issuing 3D printed prototypes to local healthcare workers to glean feedback on their functionality.
Three crucial improvements were made based on the feedback before 3D printing more than 17,000 high-quality, comfortable, latex-free face shields.
Simultaneously, the final design was also mass-produced using injection molding, with more than 250,000 face shields already produced.
GM has also recently started producing ear savers which help to make the wearing of masks more comfortable for wearers.
As with earlier projects, GM was able to rely on additive manufacturing to develop, refine, and distribute a design before industrializing production of the ear savers on a wider scale.
Looking to the future, GM is building two all-new facilities in Warren, Michigan, to further expand their expertise and capability in 3D printing and additive manufacturing.