The Fast Lane: Additive Manufacturing in the Automotive Industry


Aya Bentur  

Audi - Metal 3D printing -Section of a door inner panel for the Lamborghini Aventador

The automotive industry has been considered a conservative field over the last 60-70 years with car companies being slow to adopt new technologies. Lately, those same companies, that would ordinarily shy away from change, are becoming major innovators, leading the way in developments such as the connected car, the driverless car as well as the use of sensors and cameras such as Mobileye (recently acquired by Intel). However what many don’t realize is that this is also true in a general technological development: the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) in production. For many years, AM technology (3D printing) has helped accelerate innovation in design in car companies but more recently this same technology has put the automotive industry’s manufacturing in the fast lane.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) and the Automotive industry have been going hand in hand for quite some time now. Initially, 3D printing was used in this industry for prototyping but in recent years the industry has transitioned to using Additive Manufacturing for production purposes. The pace of developments is accelerating and that includes the distributed aspects of AM as well. Distributed Additive Manufacturing (DAM) allows manufacturing on-demand close to the demand. No wonder it is catching on – it can enhance and accelerate current and future uses of AM from speed of production and spare parts, through cost-cutting, to customization. Here are some examples of the versatility of taking the fast lane with Automotive AM.

The Spare

MarkForged has been developing composite materials, reinforcing plastic with continuous carbon fibers to achieve 3D printed parts that can withstand heat, weight, and pressure while being extremely light. At the Inside3DPrinting expo in New York, the company presented carbon fiber composite spare parts for Ducati motorcycles 3D printed on a MarkForged (below). More on materials in use for additively manufactured end parts here.

MarkForged 3D Printed Ducati Parts from Carbon Fibre Composite Material Photo by Henry Klein
Photo: Henry Klein

Daimler trucks, which owns the Mercedes-Benz brand has been 3D printing spare parts since last year (below). The company is producing plastic spare parts such as spring caps, air, and cable ducts, clamps, mountings, and control elements, by doing so they are creating a virtual inventory for parts of models that are several decades old or even out of production. Additive Manufacturing can go a long way for car aficionados, in this video Jay Leno shows how rare spare parts for cars can be 3D printed, producing accurate and durable replacements.


Mercedes-Benz Trucks 3D Printed Spare Parts - Make it LEO
The Race

Race cars are often an indicator or a lab for the automotive industry, in this unique setting where vehicles are produced and developed for extreme conditions, AM is thriving. Currently, Stratasys is collaborating with McLaren on 3D printed parts for Honda Formula 1 team, Stratasys is also working with Team Penske on their race cars, and Go Engineer and Concept Laser are joining forces on a 3D printed race car chassis which will be showcased soon. The Blade car by Divergent and SLM solutions (below) shows the company’s approach to additive manufacturing and auto manufacturing. Their system incorporates 3D printed joints connecting carbon fiber structural materials for easy assembly.

All Shapes and Sizes
Infinite Build 3D Printer Stratasys Used by Ford to Test Large Scale 3D Printing
Ford testing large scale 3D printing

Ford is testing additive manufacturing of large-scale, thermoplastic car parts using Infinite-Build 3D, a 3D printing system developed by Stratasys. Basically, the system 3D prints layers as most printers but instead of moving in an upward direction, the object printed gradually moves horizontally allowing a potentially unlimited part length. Ford envisions using this method to maximize production efficiency and create custom parts that were impossible before.

On the other hand, Rolls-Royce, which is known for incorporating 3D printed parts, created a mini car with 3D printed mini car parts. The car is intended for the use of kids in St. Richard’s Hospital, where they have a tradition of letting the young patients drive themselves through the halls to their surgery (below).

3D Printed Mini Rolls-Royce

The Production Route

Earlier this year EOS and Audi announced their development partnership. The two companies aspire to create a holistic implementation of Additive Manufacturing in the development and production process at Audi both for tool making and end parts (up top is a section of a door inner panel for the Lamborghini Aventador 3D printed in metal).

Audi Metal 3D Printed Mold Insert
Audi Metal 3D Printed Mold Insert
Audi RSQ Concept Car - Photo by MotorAuthority
Audi RSQ Concept Car – Photo by MotorAuthority

Another new partnership is PSA (the maker of Peugeot, Citroen, and DS cars) and Divergent3D, a 3D printing startup (below). With the help of Divergent, PSA aims to additively manufacture car parts and later on overall vehicle structures, while they, as Carlos Tavares, PSA’s chief executive, said: “dramatically scale down the size and scope of our manufacturing footprint”.


BMW was an earlier adopter of 3D printing, 25 years ago when it was only in its prototyping phase. Over the years BMW developed materials and expanded the applications of additive manufacturing. In 2010 (!!) BMW produced its first end product using AM, a water pump wheel for DTM racecars (below). Jens Ertel, head of the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Center, said: “With the new method, it was possible to achieve ideal aerodynamics of the component for the DTM race series… …no complex tools or molds are needed, which makes the demand-oriented production more cost-effective.” Today the BMW Group is one of the first customers for both Carbon and HP 3D printers, the two new AM technologies for 3D printing production of end parts.

BMW 3d printed waterpump wheel

Somos Tauras 3D printing material developed by DSM with Toyota

Somos Taurus is a durable SLA material developed by DSM in collaboration with Toyota. The material is designed for 3D printing end parts (above) withstanding high temperatures. “Our engineers and technicians have been working with the Somos team to optimize the material for real-world motorsport applications. We are extremely excited with the durability and sidewall quality of the parts” said Gerard Winstanley, Manager Composites Fabrication and Additive Manufacturing at, Toyota Motorsport.

The Fast Lane

Speaking of production routes, in the next few weeks Make it LEO will change its name. We’re keeping the LEO (Limited Edition Object), which many have started using, and changing to LEO Lane: the fast smart lane enabling AM and Distributed Additive Manufacturing (DAM). In short: LEO Lane – DAM Smart!

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