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Unleashing Innovation Potential: 7 Applications of Additive Manufacturing Technology in the Automotive Industry

June 24, 2024

15 minutes read

When it comes to the high-value application of 3D printing technology, one of the most noteworthy examples is luxury automaker Bugatti, who have employed 3D printing in the development of the Bugatti Bolide, a high-performance car. Specifically, they manufactured a 3D-printed titanium-alloy connecting rod, weighing only 100g, that can withstand a force of 3.5 tons, ensuring structural strength while reducing the overall weight of the car. In addition, 3D printing technology is used for components such as the exhaust pipe housing, front wing brackets, rocker arm brackets, and steering wheel brackets. Thanks to the powerful W16 engine and the extreme lightweight design, this vehicle achieves a maximum horsepower of 1578bhp, with an acceleration time from 0 to 100 km/h in just 2.17 seconds.


Of course, additive manufacturing technology is not limited to high-performance vehicles. 3D printers have already played an active role in many aspects of general automotive manufacturing, enabling production optimization in product development, production processes, body lightweighting and cost control.

This article will introduce 7 practical applications of additive manufacturing technology in the automotive sector and elaborate on the changes additive manufacturing can bring to automotive production.



The traditional prototype manufacturing processes for automotive components include mechanical machining, casting, injection molding, and manual production. While each technique has its advantages, they cannot simultaneously meet the demands of low cost, high efficiency, small batches, multiple materials and short cycles for prototype production. Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology, with its high flexibility and degree of freedom, partially overcomes the challenges faced by traditional manufacturing in prototype production. AM technology can be used to verify the feasibility of assembly, detect design flaws, and perform functional and performance tests.


Specifically, in the styling design phase of a new car, engineers usually create multiple proportional cockpit models to showcase the layout of the human-machine interaction system, the operational convenience of various functional areas, the materials used for the interior, and the styling of internal decorative components. Traditional manufacturing methods involve CNC machining or manual fabrication, so both production efficiency and production costs, including labor costs, are not as advantageous as they would be if produced using additive manufacturing technology.

Similarly, in the new car design validation phase, many parts need to undergo assembly verification, such as the assembly structure design of automotive interior components using snaps and clips. Due to the small dimensions of many components in the assembly structure, there is a high requirement for tolerance accuracy, typically reaching 0.1mm. Traditional prototype verification has long lead times and high costs. The use of additive manufacturing (AM) technology allows for rapid testing of parts, thereby accelerating product development.


Additionally, automotive interiors typically employ a skin wrapping process, where the skin requires an internal framework for shape support. The design of the framework must take into account the manual compression of the skin to determine the correction amount for the framework. In other words, when designing the framework, it is necessary to consider the manual adjustments or compression that may occur during the installation of the skin.

Traditional manufacturing methods involve the manual production of samples, but both cost and lead times are not cost-effective. However, using additive manufacturing (AM) technology to produce the framework for validation has become a far more desirable choice for automotive manufacturers in recent times.

In fact, there is a need for rapid verification for different purposes in many aspects of automotive production and manufacturing. Additive manufacturing technology can well solve the problem of long production cycle and high cost.


Case: 5 Times Faster, Cost Reduced by 90%: 3D Printing Benefits Prototype Design of Automobile Parts

Unitycoon Co., Ltd. is a full-service company dedicated to the design and production of auto parts in Taiwan. Specialized in design, development, and innovation, Unitycoon expanded several auto parts production lines, mainly serving mid-to-high-end auto brands in the United States, Japan, and South Korea. The company focused on customizing automobile parts to enhance the car’s appearance while improving each part’s performance.


“Using the Raise3D printer for prototype testing can shorten our development cycle. Our development speed is increased by 5 times, and the cost is reduced by 90%.” -Senior Manager of Unitycoon.


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2: Small-Batch Production of Components

Automobile manufacturers usually face the problem of long lead times for mold making and formal prototype production in the traditional mode of production, when they are engaged in small batch production of components. For instance, typical hard plastic components may require a mold cycle of approximately 3 to 4 months (depending on the size of the part and the complexity of the process, with more complex parts potentially taking longer).

During the initial trial production of the formal mold, common defects may arise, such as incomplete part formation, burrs on the finished surface, structural defects, etc. These issues can potentially lead to delays to the planned delivery dates. Additive manufacturing technology can mitigate these challenges by shortening the delivery cycle, improving market responsiveness, and increasing product variety. This enables scalable production with less capital investment.


Moreover, in some short and fast-paced projects, conflicts may arise between the need for rapid completion and the prototype delivery cycle. Faced with such situations, the common choice is to opt for rapid prototype delivery. However, the use of silicone molds may lead to issues of size instability, necessitating repeated modifications. While using CNC machining can provide high precision, it also comes with the drawbacks of high sample costs and issues related to disassembly. In such cases, 3D printing technology, known for its rapid prototyping and high flexibility, is a good choice. Not only can it quickly meet project requirements, but its relatively lower cost makes it an economically efficient solution.

Moreover, additive manufacturing technology can produce parts with complex designs, thereby reducing the quantity of parts needed. This also means fewer assembly steps, reducing the need for auxiliary manufacturing tools, and, to some extent, decreasing production costs and optimizing efficiency.


In the automotive aftermarket, AM technology can also demonstrate its value. The inventory of parts for each car model in the market often decreases with a proportionally lower number of vehicles in circulation. For some owners of older cars, especially enthusiasts of classic cars, their demand for automotive spare parts persists. Finding these rare parts on the market can often become a major challenge in their vehicle ownership journey. Whether purchasing parts from car manufacturers or the automotive aftermarket, they often face substantial costs and long waiting times. For certain classic high-end models that are no longer in production, a simple small-sized plastic cover can easily cost several hundred dollars. Therefore, for car enthusiasts, 3D printers can to some extent alleviate their concerns. In a short period, a 3D printer can easily create some components that meet functional requirements.


Case 1:Shane Drake Uses 3D Printing to Create Complex Automotive Parts


Business owner Shane Drake from Maine has utilized Raise3D 3D printers to venture into the field of automotive restoration. He specializes in re-manufacturing parts for vintage Japanese car platforms that no longer receive support from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). As a car enthusiast, Shane transforms the interiors of vintage Japanese cars using 3D printers, striving to make them better than the original OEM versions. Whether it’s printing speed or precision, the Raise3D 3D printers meet his business requirements. Today, Shane’s business experiences a steady annual growth of around 20%.


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Case 2:How Team Dynamics Print the BTCC Car Parts with Raise3D Pro2 Plus

In addition, for motorsports, there is a frequent need for teams to replace and upgrade components. Team Dynamics is a British automotive components company specializing in providing solutions for racing teams and drivers worldwide. They assist in preparing, maintaining, and running vehicles for the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) events. In the past, procuring parts often took several weeks and incurred high costs. The acquisition of the Raise3D Pro2 Plus has helped the team address part production issues in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. In addition, the Pro2 Plus’s large build volume and compatibility with multiple materials enable them to explore more possibilities in manufacturing various components.


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3: Production of Automotive Manufacturing Auxiliary Tools

The process of automotive manufacturing relies heavily on auxiliary manufacturing tools, such as jigs and fixtures. On one hand, for practical production purposes, many car manufacturers, due to cost considerations, choose to outsource the production of these fixtures. However, the production cycle for outsourced manufacturing is often long, and flexibility is limited. Once production drawings are issued, it becomes challenging to make changes to the product. This hinders automotive manufacturers from flexibly responding to iterations in product design.

In addition, the outsourcing costs for fixtures in many regions have been rising year by year. Utilizing additive manufacturing technology to produce jigs and fixtures needed in the automotive production or maintenance process eliminates the need for mold development, thereby significantly reducing both time and production costs. This enhances the overall manufacturing efficiency of the production line.

On the other hand, the traditional process of making fixtures and jigs is not an ideal choice. For example, in the case of fixtures used to secure interior components of vehicles, the conventional method involves casting aluminum and epoxy injection to provide support for the product, preventing scratches on the A surface and facilitating further processing of the product in subsequent steps.

However, these fixtures and jigs have the issue of not being lightweight and flexible enough. Fixtures and equipment are often dedicated to a single function, with each piece of equipment matched to specific fixtures, thereby increasing manufacturing costs. Furthermore, making design changes to fixtures incurs higher time and cost expenses. For projects requiring high flexibility or scenarios with elevated flexibility demands, using additive manufacturing technology to produce fixtures is a more sensible choice.


Similarly, in the processing stage of automotive interior trim components, masks are needed in the production process to protect certain areas that do not require processing. When devising a solution, additive manufacturing technology can be used to create suitable masks to meet the production requirements of specific upholstered components. AM technology may be more efficient than traditional manual or other manufacturing methods, ensuring both precision and quality in the processing.


Additionally, additive manufacturing technology can be employed to create specific measurement tools. For instance, some interior car features, such as complex shapes like curved corners, and seam positions, can be challenging to measure accurately. Typically, measurements are conducted using coordinate measuring machines or laser scanning, which may lack convenience. However, by using additive manufacturing to produce cross-sectional templates or section gauges for these shapes, it becomes more convenient for quick measurement and inspection. This can replace the functionality of some inspection fixtures.


Case: 3D Printed Jigs and Fixtures for A Leading Auto Parts Manufacturer

Musashi is a leading Japanese component manufacturer specializing in the production and sales of automotive and motorcycle parts. In the past, when engaging in the mass production of plastic components, they often encountered challenges such as lengthy setup times and the risk of deformation when processing plastic parts using traditional fixtures. Consequently, they tended to opt for outsourcing the manufacturing of these components.


However, long and uncertain delivery times were also significant issues. Nevertheless, the introduction of the Raise3D Pro2 Plus has significantly improved their production efficiency. The time required for outsourcing fixture production was originally around 30 days, but now it has been reduced to 7 days.


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4: Customized Component Production

Additive manufacturing (AM) technology enables the customized production of automotive components, meeting the needs of a more personalized and performance-oriented consumer base. For automotive brands, the automotive aftermarket, or motorsports, the demand for customized components has been a relatively infrequent yet significant presence that cannot be overlooked. This includes personalized exterior components such as headlight covers, body trim, and spoilers, as well as interior decorative components like gear shifters, center console panels, seat assemblies, intake manifolds, and various other parts, all of which can be produced in small batches using AM technology. Therefore, the additive manufacturing of customized automotive components helps address issues related to product inventory, production costs, and production cycles.


Case:Adding Value with 3D Printing: Sportscar Performance Parts Costs Slashed in Half

Crazy Grandpa’s Garage provides custom car modification services for car enthusiasts. They employ Raise3D printers to produce customized patterns of spoilers, side skirts, bumpers, and more. After adopting a Raise3D printer for production, the Crazy Grandpa Garage team eliminated the prototype manufacturing step, achieving automation in the mold manufacturing process and obtaining components with higher quality, precision, and reliability. Compared to the previous traditional manual manufacturing methods, FFF 3D printing has reduced production costs by 50%, decreased the turnover cycle by 83%, and significantly improved product reliability.


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5: Concept Car Design

Concept cars hold significant importance for an automotive brand, even though they may not be intended for subsequent formal production and market entry. Automotive brands utilize concept cars to showcase their understanding of future vehicles to consumers, simultaneously reflecting the unique ideas of designers.  The design concepts presented in concept cars also have the potential to influence automotive trends of an era.

Additive manufacturing (AM) technology, with its inherent flexibility and extensive material adaptability, complements imaginative concept cars. It enables the rapid prototyping of numerous components, translating designers’ creative ideas into reality within a short timeframe and at a relatively lower cost.


The completion of a concept car involves multiple rounds of design iterations. Under traditional manufacturing processes, the production and design of certain components may consume a significant amount of time and incur high costs. Additive manufacturing (AM) technology effectively addresses the shortcomings of traditional manufacturing processes, resolving efficiency issues. Components such as chassis components, interior parts, exterior styling elements, calipers, wheel hubs, etc., can be flexibly manufactured at a lower cost using AM technology, allowing for rapid iterations. The effective integration of AM technology with traditional manufacturing processes can significantly shorten the development cycle of concept cars.


6: Making Components more Lightweight

Making cars lighter is of significant importance for both civilian vehicles and race cars. It enhances the dynamic performance of vehicles, improves fuel efficiency, and reduces emissions. For electric vehicles, making the vehicle body lighter translates to lower energy consumption and extended range. Therefore, making vehicles more lightweight has been a constant focus of automotive engineers. One of the technological advantages of additive manufacturing is its compatibility with various engineering materials, including carbon fiber-reinforced materials, aluminum alloys, and titanium alloys—materials favored by performance vehicles for achieving a balance between adding lightness and structural strength.

In addition to the materials themselves, additive manufacturing can achieve making components lighter through structural design. Specifically, methods such as lattice structures, integrated structural forming, unconventional topology structures, and control layer/thin-wall reinforcement structures can be employed to achieve a lighter weight while ensuring structural strength.


7: Digital Inventory

Automobile manufacturers have always attached great importance to the construction and optimization of the automotive spare parts supply chain and logistics system to efficiently manage after-sales services. Regarding the inventory of automotive spare parts, manufacturers currently rely more on demand forecasting and then use physical inventory to meet after-sales demand. In fact, this model puts significant pressure on warehouse management and operations, facing challenges in terms of both efficiency and flexibility. Moreover, shortages of specific parts in certain regions may also occur.

AM technology enables the implementation of digital inventory solutions. Manufacturers can establish a digital repository for automotive components, supporting the online batch printing of parts. The application of digital inventory allows the production of automotive spare parts to be carried out on-demand, making the entire process more flexible and cost-effective. This, to a certain extent, reduces the stocking pressure on automotive manufacturers and shortens the delivery cycle of spare parts. For automotive manufacturers, digital inventory undoubtedly brings significant economic benefits.


Case:How 3D Printing Made Low Volume Production More Efficient

Renner Auto designs and manufactures reproductions of classic cars dating from the 1950s to the 1970s. Renner’s project aims to rebuild and refurbish a classic car’s systems but with modern technology. They aim to preserve the classic design of the old cars while internally installing new components to make the old cars “reborn.” This project implies that Renner Auto needs to design and manufacture a complete set of parts for old cars.

Renner Auto utilizes 3D printing technology to develop alternative production tools and create various automotive components. Using 3D printing, Renner Auto can easily produce components that fit correctly with a high level of detail.  These new components are made using various engineering plastics, including ABS, ASA, and TPU.


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The impact of additive manufacturing technology on the development of the automotive industry

The emergence of every groundbreaking technology signifies an upgrade in efficiency, accompanied by possible changes in industry strategies and even the transformation of market competition patterns. Additive manufacturing technology is actively reshaping the landscape of automotive production. The flexibility of additive manufacturing addresses potential inefficiencies in the automotive production process, guiding the automotive industry towards higher levels of proficiency, efficiency, and flexibility.

In the contemporary automotive manufacturing sector, where new technologies rapidly evolve, and the iteration cycle of automobiles shortens, the adaptability of additive manufacturing technology enhances the market responsiveness of automotive manufacturers, enabling them to seamlessly integrate into the ongoing digital transformation.

As a traditional manufacturing industry, the cost of automobile manufacturing increases with the rising complexity of products and components, requiring enterprises to invest significant amounts to keep up. Additive manufacturing can reduce the use of certain tools and molds, thereby saving costs. Furthermore, in the face of the automotive aftermarket, AM technology can also improve digital inventory, reducing manufacturers’ dependence on the large-scale storage of components, lowering inventory costs, and simplifying supply chain management.

On the other hand, AM technology can meet the customized demands of automotive users, adding value to automotive brands. AM technology can also expedite product design iterations, unleash the potential for innovative design, reduce development costs, and meet the requirements of vehicles for lighter parts, thereby enhancing overall vehicle performance to some extent.

Additive manufacturing is an innovation and complements traditional automotive manufacturing methods. With breakthroughs in materials, hardware technology, and processes, more industrial applications are becoming possible. It is worth noting that nowadays, most mainstream automotive brands are actively transitioning towards new energy sources. In the field of new energy vehicles, additive manufacturing technology is expected to empower the research and manufacturing of components such as electric motor assemblies and batteries, unlocking greater potential for technological applications and achieving innovative breakthroughs.

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