Matthias Schmidt-Lehr, a managing partner at consulting firm Ampower GmbH & Co. in Hamburg, Germany, says binder jet technology is at least five years away from being able to produce parts at automotive volumes.
"Binder jetting has a good chance for being used in automotive. I don't think high volume in terms of 100,000 [parts] will make sense, but everything below that has a chance," he told Automotive News in an e-mail. "Also consider that the timeline we are talking about realistically is between five and 10 years until we will see production parts since many major technical issues are yet to be solved."
ExOne is preparing to launch its largest machine later this year. Designed specifically for automakers, it has a build volume — its parts-making capacity at one time — of 160 liters or around 5.6 cubic feet.
Binder jet printers and ovens to cure the parts can cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, depending on size.
The first 3D-printed parts for production vehicles are already here. But only a few can be found on 2020 models.
BMW is one of the first companies to offer 3D-printed parts with the Mini Yours program that launched two years ago. Mini buyers can customize their vehicles with factory-made trim items that can include their name and other personalized art elements on the dash, threshold or outside on the trim surrounding the side marker lights.
The customer can order the 3D-printed parts at a dealership or online. The parts are printed in Germany, and most are delivered within 30 days.
High-end vehicles from Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini and Bugatti also are made with a smattering of 3D-printed trim parts.
Cummins, the Columbus, Ind., diesel engine maker, sold its first 3D-printed part, an engine bracket, last year and is ramping up production of others. About 200 3D-printed parts, mostly for older engines long out of production, have been sold to customers, says Brett Boas, Cummins director of advanced manufacturing in the company's research and technology group.
Cummins, the manufacturer of the turbodiesel engine in heavy-duty Ram pickups, recently bought two 3D binder jet printers that can produce parts up to 60 times faster than printers that use lasers or electron beams. Boas said Cummins believes parts eventually will be made on 3D printers for truck engines produced in volumes of 5,000 to 10,000 units per year.
But the company's immediate focus is training engine designers how to create parts that reduce waste and weight and that increase efficiency, Boas said. Some of the efficiencies Cummins will see from its growing 3D-printed manufacturing capability will include making parts on demand close to where they are needed, which would reduce the amount of dead money tied up in carrying warehouses full of replacement parts.