Regardless of the industry, getting your product to market before your competitors provides a major advantage. This, of course, is business 101. However, sacrificing quality and precision for the sake of speed is simply not an option, especially for industries where consumer safety is at stake, such as automobile manufacturing. While the need to iterate on products swiftly remained, it wasn’t until certain technologies reached a maturation point that true rapid prototyping in the automotive industry could be achieved.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has been around since the 1980s. Now, after decades of evolution, this crucial technology has reached an inflection point, becoming exceedingly relevant in various fields of engineering. More specifically, by allowing manufacturers to produce lower cost, higher quality prototypes, 3D printing technology has ushered in the next generation of rapid automotive prototyping, dramatically altering the entire design and production process in the automotive industry.
Historically, the solutions available to this industry have come from traditional methods. Prototypes for the automotive industry were often painstakingly hand-crafted from materials such as wood, clay, foam, and metal. Companies would be forced to wait for certain critical components of their prototype, significantly impacting their ability to test the product and enter into production.
The shift toward automation did open up new opportunities, yet they fell short of their potential. For instance, computer-aided CNC milling could be faster, but the high operating cost and wastefulness of materials meant it could be prohibitively expensive, not to mention the geometrical limitations of certain fabrication methods. The time spent and money wasted along the way contribute to astronomical delays and budget constraints, thereby preventing manufacturers from exploring a wider range of design options.
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