How can 3D printing enable lightweight automotive design?

August 23, 2022

According to the data of China Casting Association, the total output of castings in China reached 54.05 million tons in 2021. Among them, automotive castings lead the industry application with a 28.5% share, becoming the largest demand user in the casting field.

As the automotive industry continues to evolve, lightweight design is bringing greater driveability and lower fuel consumption to vehicle manufacturing. More and more automakers are achieving lightweight manufacturing of vehicles through 3D printing technology in their manufacturing process. These include world-renowned automakers such as Porsche, Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Ford, and Honda, all of which are exploring the possibilities that 3D printing can bring to automotive manufacturing in their respective design centers.

In January 2022, Mercedes-Benz released the concept car VISION EQXX, which achieves a lightweight design through 3D printing sand casting of a large integrated rear subframe. The cycle time was four months, and through bionic design, the original 70-plus components were integrated into a single structure with extremely high stiffness and excellent crash performance.

 Figure: VISION EQXX is a huge aluminum casting integrated by more than 70 parts

In addition, some smaller components have been optimized through 3D printing. The shock absorber dome, for example, is used to accommodate the suspension components at the front of the car. The weight was reduced by about 4 kg when it was cast in a 3D printed sand mold.

Figure: VISION EQXX’s windshield wiper bracket is designed using bionic engineering principles

Recently, BMW also released the much-anticipated M4CSL model. The car is a high-performance model based on the M4 Coupe. By adding 3D-printed cylinder heads, it adds 40 hp to the original 503 hp output, enabling it to accelerate to 100 km in just 3.6 seconds, bringing new power to the lightweight of the racing car.

BMW is also using 3D printing technology for exterior trim in some models. In the BMW Individual M850i xDrive Coupe Night Sky Custom Edition, the exterior mirror caps, front air inlet splitter, grille and around the front wing vents are replicated by 3D printing technology with Weidmann patterns. The car’s brake calipers are also 3D printed, allowing for not only a more detailed and complex pattern, but also a 30 percent weight reduction compared to standard components, thus greatly enhancing driving dynamics and ride comfort.

3D printing lightweight design can optimize the energy performance of the car, which is one of the reasons why all major car companies are striving for lightweight body. For new energy vehicles, every 10% reduction in vehicle mass can increase the range by 5%-6%, therefore, lightweighting is one of the important technical paths for new energy vehicles to achieve energy saving, reduce consumption and increase range.

Figure: New energy vehicle frame made by 3DP sand casting process with lightweight design by Beijing Longyuan AFS Co.,Ltd.

Beijing Longyuan AFS Co., Ltd., a Chinese 3D printing equipment service provider, manufactured an aluminum alloy lightweight frame for a large vehicle manufacturer, which showed an irregular geometry. The design team optimized the frame structure, printed the sand mold and cast it by 3DP inkjet sand printing equipment developed by Beijing Longyuan AFS Co.,Ltd. The final weight of the frame was less than 5KG, the dimensional accuracy reached CT7 level, the surface roughness was less than Ra12.5μm, and the overall manufacturing cycle was only one-fifth of the traditional manufacturing process.

In the future, 3D printing technology may become a more viable solution with the integration of multiple weight reduction strategies, which makes it a powerful guarantee for improved fuel economy. Compared with traditional automotive manufacturing, 3D printing technology can save more costs for car companies and shorten the time to market for product development. In addition, whether using lightweight alloys, high-performance polymers or geometry optimization to achieve weight reduction or save more space, 3D printing has become an indispensable key technology in current automotive trends.

【About Us】

Beijing Longyuan AFS Co.,Ltd. is a subsidiary of 3D Printing Technology, Inc. group, focusing on 3D printing equipment and manufacturing services. Through the self-developed SLS selective laser sintering, SLM selective laser melting, 3DP sand printing, BJ metal printing, DED directed energy deposition and other series of intelligent equipment, we provide users with sand printing rapid casting, wax printing precision casting, finished parts rapid prototyping, gradient metal 3D printing and other rapid manufacturing services in the nationwide manufacturing centers. More than 1,000 equipment and processing service users in the aerospace, automotive, motorcycle, rail transportation, ship pump valve, machinery manufacturing, art casting, metal processing and other fields.

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Longyuan AFS Co., Ltd. is a leading provider of 3D printing equipment and manufacturing services in China, providing high-quality R&D pilot production and rapid manufacturing services for small-lot, multi-species and complex structure metal products based on the integrated technology of "3D printing, casting, machining and inspection".

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