As more and more vehicle manufacturers embrace the production of electric vehicles, engineers are looking for design tweaks that improve range and energy efficiency.

One way teams are addressing range anxiety, according to an industry expert at Siemens: Making the vehicle weigh a lot less.

“Range for the electric vehicle has become a critical factor to the consumer buying these vehicles,” said Suresh Rama, Portfolio Development Executive at Siemens, in a live Tech Briefs presentation this month . “That translates into lightweighting the body whether some manufacturer feels it is necessary immediately or not.”

New materials like high-strength steel, aluminum alloys, carbon fiber, and polymer composites, however, also call for new methods of working with them.

“It is important to embrace not only new materials into the production of electric vehicles but also new manufacturing processes,” said Rama.

Do those new “manufacturing processes” include additive manufacturing?

Also known as “3D printing,” additive manufacturing technology has been used to make prototypes and customized parts – with a variety of lightweight materials.

High costs to entry and a lack of familiarity with 3D-printing technology, however, have prevented additive manufacturing from taking a firm mainstream hold in automotive plants.

A Tech Briefs reader had the following question:

“What is your estimate for when the automotive industry will switch from traditional manufacturing processes to additive manufacturing? And do you believe this will occur in 2 years? 5 years? 20 years? Or at a date beyond 2023?”

Suresh Rama, Portfolio Development Executive at Siemens

Read Suresh’s edited response below.

Suresh Rama: I wish I had a crystal ball. Every time I get into the prediction of such a paradigm shift from one to the other, it always gets me into trouble!

I think additive manufacturing is coming in fast. I would put it a little past the 10-year mark – but not because of the maturity of additive manufacturing.

When I’m talking to my son, who’s in robotics, they’re making parts to add to their FIRST robot using additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing has become a common thing. There’s a 3D printer, and he prints it himself.

These are the people who are coming in as the next-generation workforce. When they’re in the workforce and enter an experienced stage in the workforce, 10-15 years from now, they are going to be bringing these ideologies into the manufacturing fold – more than the ones who are currently trying to change a paradigm. That’s where I’m basing most of my speculation on, on whether additive manufacturing is going to become more of a regular day-to-day affair.

Plus, additive manufacturing brings to light the ability to manufacture products with exotic materials, which are not possible in the traditional fashion. And also, to manufacture complex structures that are now going to be integrated and replace a set of assemblies of traditional manufactured parts.

And finally, I want to bring attention to the sustainability factor. As we go greener and energy consumption is going to be an important thing to monitor, this now becomes a more important shift that is going to propel us into additive manufacturing.

What do you think? Share your questions and comments below.

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