Automotive automation processes evolve with the addition of 3D printing

Article by Dan Gamsby updated May 4, 2016

3D Printed Surrogate Part

Automotive assembly line

Last week Javelin hosted an executive breakfast for the automotive sector in Windsor, ON. The breakfast meeting was a fantastic way to showcase how 3D printing is evolving the automotive industry. George Russel, an automotive guru from Stratasys, was the keynote speaker and spoke about 3D printing techniques that are dramatically changing the industry today, such as:

  • Creation of Surrogate Parts: Surrogate components preserve all of the critical details for an installation while minimizing expense and lead time when they are 3D printed. Produced as needed, with up-to-date configuration changes, the 3D printed surrogates will confirm clearances and interfaces for installation assessment; highlight serviceability issues; or validate routing interfaces for wiring harnesses and fluid conduits. Surrogates may also be used as a training aid for assembly technicians or in the programming of robotic machines.
  • Reduce expensive CNC production: By creating prototypes with 3D printers this can reduce the need to use CNC machines to cut metal parts for functional testing components. Read a related case study for Volvo trucks »
  • Create better assembly tools: For hand-held devices used on the assembly line, engineers can employ 3D printing to make ergonomically designed assembly aids, check tools, jigs and fixtures that perform better than conventionally made tools.
  • Test and Identify design problems: In some cases using CAD models alone is not as effective at finding design problems as a 3D printed physical part – you can easily identify a component issue that may have been missed in the initial design stage.

George delivered a great presentation but the show stopping moment came in a meeting later that day.

Automotive automation with surrogate parts

I printed surrogate parts on Javelin’s Fortus 450mc production machine for a large automotive supplier. During our conversation about the impact 3D printing would have on this company’s operations we found out that the parts we printed were used to program the robots in one of their automation cells. Prior to receiving the metal stamped parts our printed surrogate parts allowed the company to program the robotic arms in advance. This was the first time in 20+ years this company has been able to do so.

Automotive automation

Automotive Robot programmed from surrogate part

Let’s think about the up and down stream effect that has on the industry. During the design phase of a car’s components the surrogate parts will be used to program the robotic arms. The robots will then be ready to go the moment the metal stamped parts arrive on the shop floor. We predict this will significantly reduce preparation time for the automation line. Downstream, when a product needs to be redesigned or altered whether for a recall or a newer model the 3D printed parts will act as a prep tool to get the production line ready faster. In the automotive business time is money. We save companies time and it ultimately saves them money.

This is just another example of how Javelin is changing the world, one printer at a time.

Automotive Assembly Machine

Using 3D Printed parts for automotive production automation

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Dan Gamsby

Dan Gamsbys is currently Executive Producer of Javelin Reality, with 14 years experience in the CAD software industry. Dan's experience ranges from products with Autodesk (AutoCAD, Inventor, etc) to products with SolidWorks. Dan has extensive experience in the IT field, and is an avid sports, and computer hobbiest.