3D metal printing is increasingly finding a place in the aerospace, healthcare, and tooling industries. But how far are automotive OEMs taking the manufacturing process?

In a live presentation this week titled The Future is Now for Metal 3D Printing, a Tech Briefs reader had the following question:

"How do you see the development of 3D printing in the automotive industry? Can it go beyond prototyping?"

Read the response from Dan Skulan, General Manager of Industrial Metrology at the UK-based engineering company Renishaw:

Dan Skulan: Yes, it actually can go beyond that — and it is. There are a number of areas where 3D metal printing supports the automotive industry.

First of all, in the automotive industry, there’s a big move toward electrification. CAFE standards require fuel economy to go up to 54.2 miles per gallon by 2022, and the automotive industry is doing everything they can to meet those standards — one of which is the move toward better fuel economy on internal combustion engines. This is supported very well by the 3D metal printing process. Fuel injectors and components with very fine internal structures are a target area that a lot of the major automotive OEMs are currently working on. Renishaw has a number of nondisclosure projects going on in the automotive industry that will help increase fuel economy.

The other area is in electrification. As we start to move toward more hybrid electric vehicles and full-battery electric vehicles, heat needs to be removed from the motors that are used on these cars, and the very fine detailed latticed structures that can be produced using the 3D metal printing process are another area where 3D printing can support the automotive industry.

Another trend is we’re moving down to lower-volume, more customized vehicles for people. There’s a big move toward utility vehicles, away from passenger cars, at a lower volume. With modular manufacturing, you have cells that have the casting process being done by a 3D metal printing — whether it be high precision in the case of Renishaw or 3D Systems, or something more on a general high-volume level like SPEE3D; that feeds into a machining process.

We’re looking at a lot of automotive industries going to modular smart manufacturing, where they can scale up or down very readily using 3D metal printing to feed a subtractive process on a modular scale that can then be distributed around the world. So that module could be perhaps in Detroit, in Singapore, and in Mexico. And based on geopolitical conditions and differences in trade, you can move your manufacturing at the point of use.

Where do you see metal 3D printing being most valuable? Share your thoughts below.

Watch the full presentation: The Future is Now for Metal 3D Printing.