How will the auto industry adopt 3D printing? Bill Koenig, Senior Editor of SME Media, interviewed Jonah Myerberg, Desktop Metal’s CTO and Co-Founder, for insights. Desktop Metal’s investors include Ford Motor Co., whose Chief Technology Officer, Ken Washington, is on Desktop Metal’s Board, and BMW AG, and they also work with Volkswagen AG.
Myerberg said that the industry has accepted that it is coming. As such, big OEMs are trying to understand how to do this internally. Automakers that work with Desktop Metal are forming a center of excellence within their organization to understand this.
A common sentiment is that additive manufacturing will lag in automotive compared with industries such as aerospace as production volumes are higher for cars and trucks than aircraft. However, 3D printing can be leveraged to make molds and dies for the auto industry. Myerberg recommends automakers to look at the entire vehicle and analyse how 3D printing can be utilised from all sides to remove weight and increase efficiency, instead of looking at one area of the vehicle.
Aerospace companies, such as Europe-based Airbus, have leveraged 3D printing to design differently. General Electric Co. 3D printed a fuel nozzle and advanced turboprop engine, which reduces the number of parts to 12 from 855 via conventional manufacturing. New designs are possible with additive manufacturing as parts are made layer by layer from a digital design, thus reducing the number of parts that are cut and attached to one another.
Myerberg mentioned the difficulty of convincing automakers regarding the key benefits of 3D printing as the engineers do not share what goes on behind the scenes. As a result, they are unable to fully comprehend how their customers are going to use 3D printers. Despite the conundrum, they are aware that OEMs have been installing them in their labs to understand how to design parts for additive and how much it costs to manufacture. Myerberg envisages automakers to push 3D printing down into their tier 1 suppliers. As such, they are finding certain parts that react well to design for additive and manufacture for additive. This would make sense for the OEMs to boost the tier 1s to flexibly produce the parts in high volume. In addition, he foresees that automakers are learning about 3D printing and they would want the tiers (suppliers) to compete for it.
The exact deployment remains to be seen as the OEMs are tight-lipped on their strategy for the future. That said, Myerberg anticipates a healthy competition in the field for additive manufacturing soon.