Attitudes towards additive manufacturing in automotive applications may be changing

When it comes to automotive and other consumer-facing industries focused on producing high volumes of parts at low costs, the current generation of AM processes is considered incapable of meeting these needs.

One company challenging this is Betatype. It has worked on an automotive project using the laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) process to produce 384 qualified metal parts in a single build.This was achieved through design expertise and Betatype’s optimisation technology that translated to reduced part costs and reduced lead times.

Founded in 2012, Betatype collaborates with customers in consumer, industrial, aerospace, medical, and motor sport — working together to deliver functional components through AM. To maximise AMs capabilities, Betatype built ‘Engine’, a data processing platform for managing and controlling multi-scale design. By combining Engine with the company’s strong foundation in material science, engineering and industrial design, Betatype can achieve greater fidelity at every scale of AM part design —from part form and architectured materials to process physics.

Often AM is described as a process capable of achieving any geometry. In reality, it can provide greater design freedom than other traditional manufacturing processes, but still comes with its own set of constraints. Understanding these constraints is imperative to identifying applications that fit well with AM, namely those with specifically complex geometries that work best with the physics of additive processes. This thinking has traditionally only been applied to low volume parts, however.

Die casting and other traditional manufacturing processes can manufacture millions of components per year, while processes such as LPBF can add value by delivering geometric complexity with the least amount of material possible, but not economically at high volumes. This has long been a trade-off, one that’s seen automotive companies dismiss AM for production applications — but this is changing.

With the right part, it is possible to break with conventional thinking about what LPBF is capable of, both in terms of what can be built, how and how many. An example of how Betatype can demonstrate this emerged from the Automotive industry’s switch to the use of LED headlights, which brings with it new challenges in thermal management.

Typically, these new components require comparatively large heatsinks which are often actively cooled. Betatype recognised that the specific geometry for these metal parts made them ideal for producing with LPBF, which can consolidate multiple manufacturing processes into a single production method.

By considering the LPBF process at the initial design stage of the component, Betatype was able to design a part with in-built support features, which allowed multiple headlight parts to be stacked on top of each other without the need for additional supports. It was then possible to snap apart the finished parts by hand, without the need for further post processing.

Reducing build times is key to making parts more cost-effective with LPBF. Betatypes’ optimisation technology is a key factor here and has demonstrably brought cost-per-part down from upwards of £30 to under £3.

Author
Engineering Materials

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