SEAT and 3D printing: the next big thing in automotive manufacturing?
Increasingly, in the news, we see racing teams or research centers printing cars or car bodies from new materials. All of this is an undeniable sign of progress; in fact it is the future! So the next question is inevitable: Will we print cars at SEAT S.A.?
Can a car be printed?
SEAT S.A. has the new-how, agility, flexibility and material diversity to take full advantage of the various additive manufacturing technologies that allow the development, testing and production of a large number of components and parts for SEAT, CUPRA products as well as SEAT MÓ. At the moment, mainly for cost reasons, it is not possible to print cars. However, with each new generation of vehicles, 3D printing technology becomes more and more present in development, pre-series and prototype processes, as well as in the processes of commissioning and mass production.
In the case of SEAT S.A. vehicle development is a process that takes an average of around four years. The whole process is marked by many milestones carried out by various teams. This involves high technical and organizational complexity in which additive manufacturing plays a key role.
For each element of the vehicle, it must be ensured that it fits in with the surroundings, is properly assembled and fulfills the required functions. In order for the process to run smoothly, it is extremely important to be able to react quickly to design changes, modifications and circumstances that may arise.
Additive manufacturing enables parts to be produced in an agile and flexible manner, so they can be tested, reacted to small changes, and repeated until the desired result is achieved.
An example of a milestone is the ergonomic models that simulate the interior volume (dashboard, door panels, steering wheel, seats) in the early stages of design to test the accessibility and comfort of the space that passengers will interact with. Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) technology is used to build these models, which allows you to achieve the precision and dimensional stability required for large parts.
Prototypes are produced at different levels to check that the entire assembly is working. For example, concept cars are produced at an early stage without molds or dies. For this purpose, various printed parts are used, mainly in PBF technology, due to their versatility and mechanical properties. These prototypes are often designed for run-in tests under a variety of conditions, from -40ºC to 80ºC, where materials such as PA12 provide not only process flexibility and agility, but also the functionality required.
Preseries and premiere
The production process is designed in parallel and is coordinated with the product development. During this process, it is necessary to dimension various production, robotic, painting, welding stations and assembly lines, for which 3D printing is mainly used in the construction of tools. Each tool has specific requirements depending on the scope of work. For example, in the case of paints, this process often requires high temperatures, where materials such as PEEK or ULTEM are necessary.
However, during assembly, good wear resistance and dimensional accuracy must be guaranteed to check the dimensional quality of the various components for which ASA offers ideal properties. At many stages of the assembly process, where it is necessary to avoid damaging already painted surfaces, TPU and some types of nylon give very good results. Moreover, these technologies are particularly useful when missing components are replaced during line preparation, i.e. even if a part is not yet available, it is possible to simulate its volume quickly and cheaply to test the assembly method.
The future challenge will be to bring these technologies into series use. For now, SEAT S.A. decided to focus on short series and special functions, as well as accessories and spare parts, especially in the absence of stocks and short-term additions.