Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is very crucial to automotive industry because it will disrupt traditional automotive part manufacturing process in the near future. It will allow manufacturers to customize products for different customers because unit cost of making one or several units is about the same. It will also allow manufacturers to create newer, lighter, and safer products in shorter lead times. Automotive industry is expected to invest $870 million in 3D printing in 2019 and the figure is expected to grow significantly to $1.8 billion in 2023. Customers are getting used to getting products with the features they want, and this desire applies to the automotive industry as well. Automotive parts such as door handles, signage, trims, and accessories can be customized relatively easily through alterations in the design file. Global manufacturers are expected to expedite adoption of 3D printing technology in order to print parts at authorized representative locations, reducing supply chain complexities and cost, transforming mega factories into micro factories over the next two decades. It will also enable convenient and quick vehicle servicing to maximize customer satisfaction. Currently, prototyping is the largest application for 3D printing. Design freedom and quick turnaround time are important factors that promote market penetration of 3D prototyping. Mass production is not commercially viable because a conventionally manufactured automotive part is 75% to 80% cheaper than the one that is manufactured by 3D printing. In 2030, the gap is expected to shrink considerably to approximately 10%, leading to more mass production by 3D printing. The shift from mass production to mass customization is especially important for luxury and/or sports car manufacturer like Ford Motor company (“Ford”).
Ford is the first to start testing 3D printing of large-scale vehicle parts such as spoilers and other decorations fastened to vehicle exteriors for application in sports cars, using the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer. The Stratasys Infinite Build system is capable of printing automotive parts of practically any shape or length. It could provide a more efficient way to create tooling, prototype parts and components for low-volume vehicles such as Ford Performance products as well as personalized car parts. In addition to its in-house research team, Ford partnered with Carbon3D, a startup that specializes in 3D printing and has over $50 million in funding from Sequoia Capital, Silver Lake Kraftwerk, and Autodesk’s Spark Investment Fund. As of now, 3D printing technology is not speedy enough to create the millions of parts required, but Carbon3D could eventually be put to use crafting personalized car parts for customers because those do not require producing hundreds of thousands of copies. The technology lets Carbon3D produce 3D printed objects that are stronger than other manufacturers and at a speed that is up to 100 times faster. In the medium term, we can expect that Ford will be able to offer a wide range of customized products for different customers as the company envisions that customized car parts will eventually become the norm for the auto industry. For example, a customer could have a steering wheel molded to specifically fit their hands.
Several of its competitors partnered with educational and/or research institutions for research and development in 3D printing; for example, Volkswagen is working with University of Washington, while General Motors partners with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, and many more. I realized that Ford is a pioneer of 3D printing in automotive industry and I would strongly encourage the company to continue investing in Research & Development; however, as a short-term recommendation, I believe that Ford should approach educational institutions, in addition to existing technology partners, in order to explore partnership opportunities as several key technologies often come from these researchers and Ford could gain competitive advantages over its competitors through the access to these resources. In the medium term, I would recommend Ford to focus more on mass production as it represents a much larger market opportunity. At the moment, the company is focusing mainly on mass customization which is applicable only for its Ford Performance products such as parts for its Ford Mustang line, while the company has many other products for mass market which can strongly benefit from cheaper and faster mass production by 3D printing.
Lastly, I would to end the essay with the following open question – How should Ford leverage 3D printing and react to potential threats from self-driving car?
 Global 3D Printing Materials Market in Automotive Transportation, Forecast to 2024, Frost & Sullivan, accessed November 2018
 PR Newswire, “Additive Manufacturing Opportunities in the Automotive Industry: A Ten-Year Forecast – The Automotive Industry Will Exceed $870 Million in 2019 Going on to Reach More Than $1.8 Billion by 2023,” PR Newswire Association LLC, 2015, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018
 “FORD TESTS LARGE-SCALE 3D PRINTING WITH LIGHT-WEIGHTING AND PERSONALIZATION IN MIND,” press release, March 6, 2017, on FORD website, https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2017/03/06/ford-tests-large-scale-3d-printing.html, accessed November 2018
 JONATHAN VANIAN, “Why Ford is partnering with a hot 3D printing startup,” Fortune, June 23, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/06/23/ford-hot-startup-3d-printing/, accessed November 2018