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SBD Explores: How additive manufacturing can provide strategic value to OEMs

Fifteen car makers have announced plans in recent years to leverage additive manufacturing (also known as 3D Printing) within their production process. But why? Additive manufacturing has many use cases that can be applied to automotive, from helping deliver personalized user experiences to optimizing scaling of manufacturing. Many of these use cases are now crossing the realm from early-stage exploration to real-world implementation.

This insight explores how additive manufacturing can benefit the automotive market and what challenges still remain to be solved.

What is happening?

The automotive additive manufacturing market has grown in the past 5 years. Several OEMs have adopted additive manufacturing in the assembly of vehicles or within the vehicle itself.

  • GM utilizes additive manufacturing to make components for the Chevrolet Tahoe before the injection molding tools are ready.

  • Nissan has replaced a damaged water pump (a complex component) with a 3D printed version. The part can be printed in 40 minutes.

  • Bugatti became the first OEM to print titanium brake calipers in 2019.

  • VW 3D prints the center caps within their VW Van and electroplate them to look like metal.

  • Ford prints a ‘pully’ that is used on the assembly line, which traditionally costs $180 but now only costs $0.50.

  • Ford is using printed components to attract a new generation of buyers. Using files provided by Ford, owners can design and print custom add-ons for their Maverick.

Why does it matter?

By using additive manufacturing OEMs are discovering ways to create new consumer experiences, produce components with enhanced design characteristics, and reduce manufacturing time and costs.

  • Reduce Costs via quick turnaround on prototypes and production line tool. Costs can also be reduced by digital storage of legacy/spare components and assembly line tools.

  • Improve CX by allowing owners to personalize their vehicle and by providing a range of high-quality finished components.

  • Enhance Design of complex components with reduced weight and increased strength can easily be produced. Post processing for a quality finish can be minimized for components that are non-consumer facing.

  • Streamline Production by utilizing additive manufacturing to meet unanticipated demand. Save time on producing hundreds of small unique components by substituting traditional methods with a single print.

Where next?

Additive manufacturing will increasingly help OEMs optimize the production of components. However, high-volume additive manufacturing of components is still far away.

  • Right now, additive manufacturing can be used to reduce overhead costs through digital storage of components and create new consumer experiences through custom components.

  • Mid-term advancements will help solve limitations for traditional manufacturing. Additive manufacturing will be used to make components which traditional manufacturing struggle with, on greater scales.

  • Post processing automation is a major hurdle, especially with metal printing. This will need to be solved before additive manufacturing will be able to replace traditional methods for mass scale production.

  1. OEMs will look on a tactical and opportunistic basis to see where additive manufacturing technology can add value to their strategies.

  2. More OEMs will create new consumer experiences by adding customized components on high-end models/trims.

  3. Additive manufacturing will exceed traditional manufacturing in terms of unique complex components production for mid-scale production.

  4. Challenges to automate post processing for metal printing will still pose an issue for mass scale production.

What to watch out for?

Looking beyond traditional manufacturing partners is key to executing additive manufacturing strategies effectively. What types of traits should OEMs look for in a potential partner?

  • OEMs looking to create new consumer experiences will need to consider partners that work on additive manufacturing of components in different colors while producing a high-quality finish.

  • New components can be developed by working with printing companies specializing in new printing techniques and materials.

  • Quick turnaround of components can be achieved by partnering with companies with established technology and the scalability needed to achieve production goals. Reliable printers will be needed to achieve this goal. Experimental materials and printers may cause issues for this use case.

  • Constant repeatability will be essential to ensure multiple prints stay uniform to design specifications.

How should you react?


Start by exploring opportunities to implement additive manufacturing in use cases that are non-consumer facing.


Evaluate where additive manufacturing can help realistically achieve KPIs. Avoid hype-driven adoption of additive manufacturing that doesn't align to business needs.


Focus on a broad range of partnerships with additive manufacturing companies to see who can help achieve long term goals.

Interested in finding out more?

Most of our work is helping clients go deeper into new challenges and opportunities through custom projects. If you would like to learn more about opportunities available to connect with additive manufacturing experts contact us today!


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