Several technology revolutions are converging at the same time, creating beautiful partnerships that are accelerating adoption.
For example, machine learning enables the utilisation of big data, and 3D printing is accelerating electric vehicle development in a variety of exciting ways.
At Additive-X, we’re passionate about additive manufacturing as a way to make cleaner, greener technologies, and EVs are a prime application.
What if, one day, we could 3D print an entire car in our garage? Imagine – you buy a Tesla online, and your 3D printer delivers it (literally).
Alas, we’re far off that scenario, but there are several useful applications for 3D printing in electric vehicle development today.
Let’s explore these to reveal the potential:
Commercial EV manufacturer Arrival has an ambitious plan to set up micro-factories that produce electric vehicles close to customers. This distributed manufacturing approach can be taken to another level with 3D printing.
Today, 3D printer farms can mass produce automotive components accurately with no human intervention. These printers can fabricate parts at speed and scale, with automated production lines that eliminate large parts of the supply chain.
Components that have to be bought in can be made in-house, and EV manufacturers won’t be limited to what the supplier can provide.
Faster charger rollout
In the UK, charger station rollouts are proceeding rapidly. However, there are barriers like planning permission in some areas and a global components shortage squeezing the supply chain. These barriers are confounded by manufacturing limitations related to casings, enclosures and circuit holders, which are often proprietary.
Charger manufacturers that use proprietary casings and other components can use additive manufacturing to prototype and make end-use fixings.
EV chargers will be mandatory in new-build houses from 2022, so EV charger manufacturers need all the help they can get to make supply meet demand.
Also, 3D printing unlocks the door to creators to print their own replacement parts like charger head enclosures and grips – basically, anything that isn’t electrical.
Lighter, stronger components
One of the unique properties of a 3D printer is its ability to manufacture parts with lightweight infills and support structures. Printed parts that weigh X in injection moulded and aluminium form can be lighter and just as strong.
For example, the Markforged Onyx Series yields parts as strong as 6061-T6 Aluminium when printing Onyx with carbon fibre reinforcement.
Weight is a crucial design consideration for EVs because more weight = higher power consumption and less range. Batteries and safety systems are heavy, so every lb and kg that is saved with 3D printing is worthwhile.
While injection moulding and CNC machining are highly suited to mass production, 3D printing is better suited to making customised, bespoke products.
In the image above, for example, we have the XEV Yoyo, which is made from 3D printed components.
EV makers can also create 3D printer farms to fulfil custom orders the same day, eliminating much of the third-party market that caters for demand with dubious quality control. In this sense, 3D printing offers a way to take control of the supply chain.
Product configuration tools are also becoming more complex, with consumers demanding a more immersive experience with more options.
3D printing unlocks the door to an unlimited range of possibilities, enabling higher customer satisfaction.
3D printing and electric vehicles – the future
With 3D printing, EV designers can rapidly prototype physical parts or assemblies, from simple interior elements to full-scale models of an entire car. The workflow efficiency is unrivalled, and recent advancements in cloud connectivity and collaboration have opened the door to connected 3D printer farms that satisfy mass production.
We expect to see 3D printing used a whole lot more in EVs of the future, perhaps in wiring assemblies, housings, dashboards and snap-fit storage cubbies.
Exciting times lie ahead, and we can’t wait!
Image credits: Top (Pinshape), second (Formlabs), third (grabCAD), fourth (Markforged), fifth (XEV).