New 3D printing technology could be a game-changer for auto design and manufacturing

Disruption comes when we least expect it. Someone with a “just crazy enough” idea follows it through and suddenly the world changes. And usually it evolves around an unmet need of the customer, the industry, or both.

Interestingly, such a disruption seems to have arrived at the doorstep of minimal automotive: 3D printed circuit board printing. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect: just when incumbent automakers are struggling to bring innovative electric vehicles to market quickly while supply chain issues abound and a combination of inflation or recession looms like a thunderstorm with distant rumbles. And while bold articles about 3D printing disruptions probably now feel chicken-little-screams, this pretty crazy technology is tackling centuries-old design and manufacturing with speed-to-market disruptions, upgrades the design and control of supplies.

Speed ​​to market

The concept of “speed to market” has always been the appeal of 3D printing: quickly create prototypes, learn customer preferences using Lean user experience or other similar methodologies, and iterate to an improved solution. But such agility has traditionally been available for enclosures, mounts, or off-vehicle technology (eg, servers running software). Changing the circuit boards still required 8 to 10 weeks. That’s how the cliché of “we’ll fix it in software” became the norm: keep the half-baked architecture and sort of jerry-rig solutions using more malleable parts of the system. Period.

However, 3D printing a new PCB can now be done in thirty (30) hours, allowing the team to more quickly test system lag and performance and iterate on the architecture. “In addition to changing the cost structure for large-scale manufacturing, additive systems give designers greater freedom to innovate and iterate,” says Zivi Nedivi, president of Nano Dimension, a printing company. additive fabricated electronics (AME). “This speeds up the design and development cycles of high-performance electronic devices or Hi-PEDs. What would normally have been a two month period to generate a finished printed circuit board, AME can produce in less than two days, helping to significantly reduce the overall cycle time. When innovation depends on multiple sets of iterative cycles, these savings add up to be very significant.

Upgrades to design

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this automotive technology: the packaging engineer is no longer constrained to a flat, rectangular board that struggles to fit in certain places (e.g. the A-pillar , the steering column), and the structural engineer no longer worried about the vibration and tensile forces that plagued traditional designs. Want a box? Or a honeycomb? Or any other shape that works for the reinvented vehicle? All are welcome and this flexibility allows for unique integrations, lower weights, better durability and a multitude of value propositions. “Printed circuit boards produced by AME can be configured in a myriad of shapes and sizes,” says Nedivi. “It’s ideal for rapidly changing car designs, especially with conforming shapes, for example, round aspects.”

Another quiet but intriguing aspect of the upgraded design focuses on the original EV switch customer need: durability. Consumers and governments around the world are worried about the influence of the automobile on climate change and desperately want environmental considerations. Interestingly, 3D printing of circuit boards also contributes to this goal. “Traditional electronics manufacturing has a very unfortunate and often unknown dark side: durability,” says Nedivi. “A lot of chemicals and energy are used. As the automotive industry seeks to advance sustainability through the vehicles themselves, the way vehicles – especially electronics – are made should not be overlooked. Independent studies have shown that AME is better in terms of chemicals and energy used, and many other variables, for example water and waste.

Controls for supplies

It should come as no shock to readers that the world is experiencing arguably the biggest supply chain crisis of our lifetime. Willy Shih’s Harvard Business Review article titled, Global supply chains in a post-pandemic world“The supply shock that started in China in February [of 2020] and the demand shock that followed the shutdown of the global economy revealed vulnerabilities in the production strategies and supply chains of companies everywhere… [And] As a result of all this, manufacturers around the world will be under greater political and competitive pressure to increase their domestic production, expand employment in their home countries, reduce or even eliminate their dependence on sources perceived as risky and rethinking their use of lean manufacturing strategies that involve minimizing the amount of inventory held in their global supply chains. Shutdown in Wuhan? Print some parts. Special construction required for a low-runner in service? Print some parts. Back-up on the boarding platforms? Print some parts. The flexibility to reduce these operational risks is immeasurable.

Such internal printing further helps in controlling intellectual property (IP). Revealing the necessary bolt or bracket design to multiple vendors does not expose the game-changing innovation, but the software and electronics are now the real differentiators and require extra care regarding their exposure. “IP control is another huge benefit of AME,” says Nedivi. “You can manufacture entirely in-house to keep control of cutting-edge designs. [manufacturer] can create freely, knowing that intellectual property and ideas are securely locked away. »

Author’s note

Associated with these changes of function by stage, there will certainly be opponents; linked across time and space with a recurring fate akin to superhero and villain. He (and, yes, I’m calling my own gender) will be an engineer in his later years who can’t imagine stealing taxis, online dating, and cleaning robots. The changes for him are revolutions that trump his traditions and he will fight them with blog criticisms like “not fast enough for real manufacturing” or “we haven’t seen 3D printing really take off yet” . And yet the present constantly evolves into the future regardless of its denial because “need” drives the market forward.

Welcome to the future.

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