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Protolabs is Fueling the New Wave of Lightweight EV Batteries with 3D Printing

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3D printing is one of the important tools that automakers will turn to drive forward the development of electric vehicles.

We are in the midst of the electric vehicle revolution. Nearly every automaker is converting their vehicle lineup to all-electric and plug-in hybrid offerings, motivated by the Biden administration’s mission of 50% of all vehicles on U.S. roads being electric-zero-emissions by 2030. By 2023, the Edison Electric Institute predicts a nearly three-times increase in the number of fully electric models available. This heightened demand has transformed battery technology from a niche market into a booming and highly competitive industry, yielding innovations that address the automotive sector’s most pressing challenges.

As manufacturers welcome a new wave of battery technology, we’ll see light-weighting, prices trend downward, and production times streamlined. Protolabs is among the companies automakers are turning their attention to in order to drive forward EV development. Infusing 3D printing technology into the battery production process enables OEMs to extend the battery life without sacrificing quality or safety and helping push the cost of EVs below fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.

Protolabs is exhibiting at the upcoming Digital Days Expo, a virtual continuation of The Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo held in Novi last month that connected more than 550 suppliers with 9,155 buyers and suppliers in attendance. The fully digital event is scheduled for November 17-18, featuring an enhanced conference program with live and on-demand webinars and exhibitor ‘booths’ spotlighting new products and services. Register for the event here

With the event on the near horizon, I had the opportunity to speak with Rob Young, marketing manager at Protolabs, where we discussed the upcoming event and what attendees can look forward to learning about at their booth. 

Jenny McCall: What excites you most about the future of the 3D printing sector? 

Rob Young: Amidst the flurry of M&As happening within the 3D printing sector, the surge in the alignment of industry forces has the potential to propel additive material and machine offerings forward even faster. This is exciting for a part manufacturer like Protolabs, and Protolabs is no exception to the recent uptick in M&A activity. The acquisition of Hubs, formerly 3D Hubs, broadens its manufacturing capabilities and extends its global manufacturing network. With emerging materials and technologies on the horizon, it is exciting to know that part designers will have many service bureau capabilities at the ready without having to carry any heavy investment costs. 

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JM: How is 3D printing technology impacting the battery industry? 

RY: Without a doubt, the 3D printing industry will play a role in the coming wave of electric batteries. Designers can leverage 3D printing as another tool in the tool kit to orchestrate the right performance requirements from 3D parts, whether they are used in batteries themselves, within elements of the processing and manufacturing lines at new battery facilities, or used to support the overall infrastructure of EVs and HVs. Think charging stations, for example. 3D printing already serves a role in the automotive market when custom end-of-life parts need replacing. I expect that trend will continue to eliminate the inventory burden. I also expect 3D printing to continue to be leveraged to manufacture a vehicle part to reduce weight and eliminate excess material. Finally, the tried and true impact of leveraging 3D printing to iterate part designs quickly is a blessing for the battery designers who are being pushed to move at a record pace while leveraging the best technologies. 

JM: Protolabs exhibited at The Battery Show and E/HV Tech Expo held in Novi earlier this year and will also be at the upcoming Digital Days Expo. What products and services can attendees look forward to seeing and learning about at the company’s booth? 

RY: When we think about how we’re currently enabling the E/HV space, it’s primarily in two places: 1) accelerating the rate of innovation and enabling faster development/speed to market, and 2) streamlining commercialization to produce at scale faster than what was traditionally possible. This primarily happens in 3D printing and Injection Molding

We have doubled down on our metal 3D printing offering over the past couple of years. Now our fleet of metal 3d printing machines exceeds 30, and we have recently added a second X Line 2000R machine to run Aluminum (AlSi10Mg). This is a large format printer with build volumes of 160 liters, and it has proven to be another effective manufacturing tool for the automotive industry.

From an injection molding perspective, we’ve been focused on developing robust solutions for the automotive space to enable faster iteration and streamline production. This means automated in-line quality systems and low-volume production solutions geared towards speed to market without sacrificing quality.

JM: What excites you most about engaging with your community at the upcoming event?  

RY: As an industry leader, we’re always excited to collaborate with other thought leaders on solving tomorrow’s problems together. This is an incredible forum to accelerate innovation, which is what we do at Protolabs.

We are looking forward to hearing more about the needs of the EV and HV community so we can partner and solve design and manufacturing challenges together in this new and exciting space. It’s a great time to be serving this industry. 

To schedule a meeting with Protolabs, register for Digital Days Expo here and reach out to Rob Young on the digital platform to set up a conversation.

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