General Motors goes from making cars to COVID-19 medical devices in just days with 3D printing

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.

We could not have responded to the coronavirus as quickly as we did without 3D printing. The investment in both our additive manufacturing facilities and training the team to leverage 3D printing for development has enabled us to pivot to making ventilators and personal protective equipment virtually overnight.Ron Daul, GM director of Additive Manufacturing

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.

3D printed fixtures for ventilator production. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

GM is working with its partner Ventec Life Systems and collaborator Hamilton Medical, in the manufacturing of ventilators where nearly all the tools used to assemble them are 3D printed.

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.

3D printing allows us to make constant, rapid changes to fixtures based on feedback from the assembly teams. We can receive feedback from Hamilton, improve a part, and have it flown back to Reno in less than 24 hours.Dominick Lentine, GM Senior Manufacturing Engineer, Additive Applications
Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors

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.

3D printed ear savers which help make masks more comfortable for some wearers. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
3D printing helps us design and build parts and products faster and in ways, we previously couldn’t. Most design work takes place in computer-aided design or computer-aided engineering these days, but there’s no substitute for having an actual part in hand to prove your concept, be it a transmission component or a face shield visor.Kevin Quinn, GM Director of Additive Design and Manufacturing

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.

General Motors additive manufacturing team members working at the still-under-construction Additive Innovation Center. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)

If you have any inquiries, our team is on standby to engage with you for an in-depth discussion about your requirements – via the contact, or call +65 6631 8555.

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