A number of automotive manufacturers are already using 3-D printing to supply parts for luxury high-end vehicles. But a new, highly disruptive additive manufacturing process could enable engineers to boost fuel efficiency, reduce noise and decrease CO2 emissions by 3-D printing components with even lighter weights than currently possible.
How It Works
Engineers out of the University of Nottingham, England, will construct components using selective laser melting (SLM). The process uses a three-dimensional computer aided design (CAD) to digitally reproduce each part in a number of layers. Each layer is then 3-D printed using lasers, by melting sections of a bed of aluminum alloy powder. The melted layers fuse and solidify to create new structures, which can be assembled to form a complex lattice, creating an incredibly lightweight component.
Deemed the Functional Lattices for Automotive Components project, the research aims to reduce the weight of automotive components by 40 to 80 percent, while optimizing thermo-mechanical performance. University of Nottingham engineers are exploring the possibilities of printing brake calipers, heat sinks for LED headlights and powertrain sub-systems. The lighter weight components will result in improved efficiency in vehicles using the 3-D printed parts.
A Greener Solution for Auto Parts Manufacturing
In addition to the possibility of reducing carbon emissions in luxury and motorsport vehicles, the process itself is more environmentally sustainable than many current forms of 3-D printing. The process minimizes waste because only the necessary materials are incorporated into the components. Additionally, any aluminum powder waste is easily recyclable. The SLM process requires no special tools or hazardous cutting fluids, resulting in a number of environmental advantages. The process could also reduce manufacturing time and costs, both significant factors in the world of 3-D printing innovations.