Don’t be surprised if Japanese OEMs lead the way on what my be the next big technology leap in mass-market auto design—bodies made with advanced plastic composites like those used in the Boeing Dreamliner still under development. Boeing’s sole supplier for the enormous amounts of composites required for the plane is Toray Industries, which co-located a production plant next to Boeing’s assembly factory near Seattle, WA. Toray is rapidly ramping up capacity to meet demand for the 787 and other projects, including future Airbus planes. Toray recently established a $24 million automotive center in Nagoya, Japan to develop advanced composites for cars. Its main mission will be to make the new lightweight systems more affordable. Use of carbon-fiber reinforced panels in the body of the new Tesla (all-electric) roadster adds $3,000 in cost per car—way more than cash-strapped American OEMs (and customers) can afford now. Regular fiberglass composites, such as those used on the Corvette, are less expensive, but much heavier.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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