General Motors Announces Partnership with Autodesk to 3D Print Parts for EVs

General Motors is aiming to have 3D printed parts inside production vehicles within the next five years.

General Motors (GM) has announced it will collaborate with software company Autodesk to 3D print parts for its new range of electric vehicles. The company hopes by using this cutting edge technology it can achieve its ambitious goal of adding 20 new electric vehicles to its global lineup by 2023

3D printing has been used in the automotive industry for years to build prototypes, but GM now says they are ready to use the technology in the true production process. One example GM and Autodesk cite is the printing of a stainless steel seat bracket. 

Lighter cars mean longer ranges

Normally this bracket is made of eight separate parts that come from several suppliers. The printed part would not only be 20 percent stronger but 40 percent lighter. 

“Generative design is the future of manufacturing, and GM is a pioneer in using it to lightweight their future vehicles,” said Scott Reese, Autodesk Senior Vice President for Manufacturing and Construction Products. “Generative technologies fundamentally change how engineering work is done because the manufacturing process is built into design options from the start. GM engineers will be able to explore hundreds of ready-to-be-manufactured, high-performance design options faster than they were able to validate a single design the old way.” 

Making cars lighter will enable them to increase fuel efficiencies. While the popularity of electric vehicles is steadily growing, many consumers still worry about consist ranges.

Lightening cars and increasing the range of EVs would go a long way to mainstreaming the technology. GM says that the 3D printed parts will appear in racing sports within a year and in production cars within five. 

SpaceX lead way in 3D printed technology

While GM is ready to start adding 3D printed parts to cars. SpaceX has already added them to rocket ships. Back in January 2014, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket that contained a 3D-printed Main Oxidizer Valve (MOV) body in one of the nine Merlin 1D engines. 

This was the first time that SpaceX had flown with a 3D printed part. Luckily the valve performed beautifully, surviving the vibration, heat and pressure of the launch. 

SpaceX says the 3D printed part is actually stronger and has lower variability in materials properties than its traditional counterpart. The MOV body was printed in two days compared to a typical casting process for the same part that can take months. 

General Motors Announces Partnership with Autodesk to 3D Print Parts for EVs
Source: SpaceX

The part has now been cleared to be used interchangeably with its traditional part on all future test flights. In addition to parts, SpaceX has managed to 3D print and successfully test an engine chamber to go inside the SuperDraco. 

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The flight qualified version of the SuperDraco engine is the world’s first 3D printed rocket engine. The engine combustion chamber is printed of Inconel, an alloy of nickel and iron. 

Using 3D printing allowed the SpaceX engineers to achieve the low-mass objective of the engine. SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk describes the engine, saying "It’s a very complex engine, and it was very difficult to form all the cooling channels, the injector head, and the throttling mechanism. Being able to print very high strength advanced alloys ... was crucial to being able to create the SuperDraco engine as it is."

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