Additive Manufacturing in the Auto Industry
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is changing the automotive industry as we know it. As competition in the auto industry grows fiercer, with 88 million autos being sold worldwide in 2016 , car manufacturers are constantly trying to improve processes by testing new technology to gain an edge. Additive manufacturing is leading these product development enhancements by allowing companies to create cars that are lighter, more attractive, and safer, all while having shorter lead times.
Honda: 3D Printing from Prototyping Parts to Consumer DIY Printing
If you walk on the plant floor of most car manufactures today you should not be surprised to see multiple 3D printers hard at work prototyping and testing parts, creating a part designed at another facility, and producing parts that are no longer standard production. Honda is not only deeply integrated with these uses of additive manufacturing on the production line, but they are also beginning to take it a step further with their Tokyo based subsidiary, Honda Access.
How would you feel if your brand-new Honda CR-V came with an interior unlike anyone else’s because it was made specially for you? This is exactly what Honda is beginning to do for limited edition vehicles, particularly in China where Honda is a status symbol . By using 3D printing to customize car parts, Honda is opening up new possibilities for consumers who want to feel a special connection to their car or want their car to stand out from the crowd. This use of additive manufacturing is significantly reducing the lead times to get custom automobiles in the hands of its consumers, while enhancing their satisfaction with the product by delivering exactly what they want in a car.
With predictions that 3D printing in the automotive industry will reach $1.1 billion annually by 2019 , Honda is really beginning to push into new territories to be a part of this revolution. A recent initiative, “Honda 3D Design Archives,” released external designs of past concept models so that individuals who own a 3D printer can print their own version of Honda’s concept designs . While you cannot create a running car with this, it is allowing for consumer experimentation and engagement with the brand. One can imagine a world where this leads to new designs as more and more engineers and designers have the ability to see original designs, alter them to their likings, and print a shell of a vehicle for display or customization.
The Future Potential of Additive Manufacturing
Honda has taken great strides to put themselves at the forefront of this growing technology. What could be next for Honda?
I imagine a day where I never have to wait more than a few minutes for a car repair. PwC also believes in this:
“…customers or suppliers order spare parts from a manufacturer’s web page. Within hours, nearby 3-D service bureaus have downloaded the files, printed the parts, and sped them to the customer. Or the customer prints parts on its own equipment, eliminating shipping costs, tariffs, and delays.” 
I challenge Honda to take this on. As more and more retailers, such as UPS, make 3D printers available to consumers and more consumers begin to buy their own, Honda should be making parts available to consumers to print and repair their cars themselves. This improves quality of life for a customer that is no longer at the dealer’s whim to get a repair done and will not be a money loser for Honda as they will no longer need to be performing simple repairs. Honda should implement this with an online system to diagnose a problem with a car or give you the option to come in for a quick inspection. Then a user can order the design of a part online for a fee to print on their own time.
This large step towards mass acceptance and mass use of additive manufacturing would push Honda to the forefront of the industry and allow them to truly make the lives of their consumers more flexible.
While the use of additive manufacturing is not yet for mass production, it will be at that point before we know it. As we think towards the future, would you be open to printing your own car parts or daily use items? Do you feel safe driving in a car made up of 3D printed parts? (757 words)
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