Is this a prototype or production car?
Automotive technologies are advancing faster than ever due to developments in powertrains, autonomous capabilities, and manufacturing. The latter is, perhaps, a little less known but still extremely important. How so? One new and critical construction method is 3D printing, a technology automakers are heavily pursuing. General Motors is one of them.
Car and Driver has learned that GM engineers built an advanced prototype of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray version that was 75 percent 3D printed. Why was this done, aside from gaining additional time and experience working with the technology? Because it gave the C8 team the chance to see how all of the car's components fit together and to make sure certain areas were accessible during the manufacturing process.
In short, if something wasn't quite right, it was relatively easy to spot and fix. 3D printing also made life much easier for designers and engineers regarding the right-hand drive Corvette for the UK and Australian markets. But there was one area in particular where the technology was extremely helpful: the retractable folding hardtop. The team used a lot of 3D printed parts "to gauge the functionality of opening and closing very early in the process."
Kevin Quinn, GM director of additive design and manufacturing, told C&D the team "could quickly get a prototype part. We can iterate that part maybe fives time in a week so you make sure you get the right design."
Additional 3D printing benefits include making sure sensors in vehicles with driver assistance features are aimed correctly and to help train the robots that actually build the cars. "You can print a couple of parts and that's good enough for robots to be able to assess access points and buildability," said Ron Daul, GM director of additive manufacturing.
But don't assume 3D printing is a production method utilized in factories only. Although the technology is still years away, GM engineers would like to see a future service allowing owners to use an app to download and print parts at home using a subscription service. Want a new rear spoiler for your Corvette? No problem, assuming you have the machine capable of printing it at home.
Although this capability is still years away, GM's in-house 3D printing experiments are the first steps to making that a reality.