Test & Measurement

Automotive manufacturing process increases flexible production

23rd October 2018
Lanna Deamer

The automotive design process has evolved over the past few decades mainly through the introduction of digitalisation. These advancements have enabled businesses to adapt their manufacturing techniques to meet the demands of the industry, saving them time and streamlining the path to the latter stages of production and design. However, Accurate Technologies Inc (ATI) has identified a further opportunity within the automotive Measurement, Calibration and Diagnostics (MCD) sector.

This helps facilitate further time saving and cost effective additive manufacturing techniques. The company’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing technique has enabled the development of complex, robust and reduced-cost casings for some of its core hardware products, while also offering the capability to deliver custom solutions, rapidly.

“There are few sectors evolving faster than MCD, which inspires frequent design changes and calls for increased unit robustness,” explained Derrick Gowen, Vice President, Accurate Technologies.

“We identified SLS as displaying the relevant properties to offer tangible benefits to the sector: we can reduce component cost and weight while enhancing durability and flexibility as part of an agile manufacturing footprint. The process lends itself to producing extremely complex designs, which would have previously been deemed impossible using traditional 3D printing manufacturing approaches.”

ATI’s SLS technique utilises a laser as a power source to sinter a specially formulated powdered material. The SLS printer is able to create components from 3D CAD data using multiple layers before a levelling roller spreads a thin layer of the proprietary material for the laser to trace individual slices.

The powdered layer surrounds the printed object, so during the process no additional physical support is required and the manufacture of complex designs becomes simpler and more cost effective.   

“Designs using our SLS 3D printing technique are not constrained by the potentially high up-front tooling costs of injection molding,” continued Gowen.

“This added benefit negates the need for last minute tooling changes, which can delay production, and help to streamline processes. With SLS 3D printing, it is possible to modify designs simply by updating CAD files. For example, we have produced new custom break-out boxes for our EMX Data Acquisition Modules and we are able to offer a plug-and-play wiring solution for customers looking to upgrade an existing system to benefit from EMX’s advanced features.”

The material identified by ATI is a Polyamide 11 (PA-11) also known as Nylon 11. It is a bio-based engineering plastic constructed from renewable resources which offers high performance characteristics suitable for the manufacture of low weight, reduced cost SLS-printed components.

“PA-11 offers enhanced dirt and discoloration resistance even in the most arduous conditions,” concluded Gowen. “Its flexible nature is resistant to fracture or splitting and its mechanical properties make it ideal for highly-stressed applications in industries such as healthcare, aerospace, electronics and, of course, automotive.”

As the demand for streamlined manufacturing processes continues to grow parallel to the desire for cost effective solutions, 3D printing will continue to be at the heart of these trends due to its time and cost benefits.

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