3D Printing To The Rescue: Innovation During Crisis By Automotive Companies

Judy Cubiss

In his blog series, Aswin Mannepalli highlighted how automotive companies have been protecting their employees, financially guarding their companies, and using their manufacturing expertise and partnering to help save lives. In this blog, I want to dive down into the inspiring and innovative stories of automotive companies using additive manufacturing (3D printing) to help address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Benefits of 3D printing

That 3D printing has helped companies respond to the shortage of PPE during this crisis has not been a big surprise. 3D printing has been gaining momentum throughout the automotive industry for some time, helping those industries streamline their supply chains and reduce inventory, especially spare parts. It makes sense that when parts are produced onsite, by eliminating waiting for them to be manufactured and shipped it reduces the time for repair without increasing inventory. This means significant cost savings and reduces the capital tied up in inventory.

3D printing has also helped companies reduce the cost of prototyping, as it becomes both feasible and cost-effective to produce more complex components in a very short time frame. In today’s ever-changing world, reducing the time from concept to prototype to production is key, and this crisis has highlighted that fact. From a sustainability perspective, 3D printing also reduces waste in manufacturing; unlike milling from a block, only the material needed is “added” or used.

Another positive of 3D is that open source files created using computer-aided design (CAD) tools can be shared widely and produced using 3D printers available around the world.

How 3D printing is helping during the crisis

All these advantages of 3D printing mean that this innovative technology is ideally situated to help during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some great stories of automotive companies using their deep history of innovation, collaboration, and technological expertise in design, manufacturing, and 3D printing to help.

In the United Kingdom, Jaguar Land Rover is collaborating with the UK’s National Health Service to design and produce a reusable visor in its prototype build operation and 3D printing facilities that is validated and approved for use. The company also plans to make the open CAD design files available to other additive manufacturers so that more visors can be printed.

Lamborghini’s production plants in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, an area that is severely impacted by coronavirus, collaborated with the University of Bologna to 3D print protective medical shields that are approved for medical use. And more recently, the company announced support for the Siare Engineering Internation Group to create a breathing simulator that can evaluate a ventilator’s performance. In just two weeks, a simulator was designed, produced, and validated using 3D printing.

Skoda, a Volkswagen Group brand, is also using its in-house 3D printing equipment to produce reusable respirators in collaboration with the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics, and Cybernetics at the Czech Technical University. The respirator houses a replaceable filter, so the mask part can be reused and sterilized. This is another case where the design has been made available for free.

Volkswagen is also collaborating with Airbus and the “Mobility goes additive” 3D printing network to produce face shield holders using its 3D printing facilities in Europe.

In the United States, Ford is helping address the crisis in several ways. One is by using its in-house 3D printing capacity to produce components for PPE, including face shields. Simultaneously, it is collaborating with GE and 3M to help scale up production capabilities for medical equipment and necessary supplies.

Looking forward

As we move out of this crisis, what role will 3D printing take? This unprecedented supply chain disruption rolled across the globe and severally impacted manufacturers everywhere. But uncertain and fluctuating supply and demand are set to continue throughout the recovery, which could last many months and will still include transportation delays and border closures.

Manufacturers will need to think through their supply chain and manufacturing processes for product components. It could be a good time for them to reassess designs for some components, potentially rethinking or redesigning existing parts to use additive manufacturing. In addition, the need for personalization and the ability to manufacture single lot sizes might be more important than ever, as demand could be sporadic as it rebuilds. Smaller lot sizes could be another area where there is more potential to use 3D printing to provide personalization within the manufacturing processes.

The role of 3D printing in the global supply chain will continue to evolve and expand after this crisis is over.

Do you have any other stories about how 3D printing has helped during this crisis? Let me know in the comments or via Twitter @jucubiss

Get expert guidance on how to respond to the coronavirus crisis in a “Quick Response Guide For Automotive Leaders.”

Judy Cubiss

About Judy Cubiss

Judy Cubiss is Global Marketing Lead for Industrial Machinery and Components and Automotive at SAP. She has worked in the software industry for over 20 years in a variety of roles, including consulting, product management, solution management, and content marketing in both Europe and the United States.