3D Printing for Automotive Prototypes: The Perfect Segue into Injection Molding

Additive manufacturing is gaining more and more traction in the automotive industry, especially in the case of prototyping projects. And with good reason – 3D printing is one of the quickest, most cost-effective methods for producing complex automotive prototype parts, then developing and refining them through iterative design.

Compared to traditional prototyping methods, 3D printing services can substantially simplify your overall project and fast-track your automotive parts into production. As an added benefit, once you reach that stage, the 3D printing process is optimized for transitioning straight into rapid injection molding (RIM), further streamlining your path to market.

The Advantages of Additive Manufacturing for Automotive Prototyping:

A Rapid Prototyping Solution

3D printing allows us to rapidly produce custom automotive prototypes without having to develop complex tooling first, as is generally required with traditional manufacturing methods. We can produce virtually any part design quickly and provide a functional prototype for you to test and refine, then produce additional samples as you implement design changes. For projects demanding the quickest turnaround possible, rapid prototyping via additive manufacturing is the ideal service to pair with rapid injection molding services once your automotive products are ready for production.

Iterative Design and Validation

3D printed automotive prototypes facilitate the iterative design process, allowing your product engineers to physically evaluate their designs for form, fit, and functionality. Any design changes are realized almost immediately in the next printed prototype, with no intermediary steps needed for us to develop new tooling – as is the case for injection molded prototypes.

Accommodates Complex Automotive Part Geometries

Today’s 3D printers can create virtually any complex shape or intricate design needed for common automotive parts. This level of precision is difficult to achieve in traditional manufacturing methods, and often extremely time-consuming. Additive manufacturing simplifies the entire process, putting much more freedom and flexibility in the hands of your product engineers.

On-Demand Production and Just-in-Time Manufacturing

3D printing facilitates the just-in-time, on-demand manufacturing services that are expected in today’s automotive manufacturing industry. Our additive manufacturing and injection molding services are designed to produce your parts exactly as needed – exactly according to specification and in the exact volumes required.

Material Selection Flexibility for a Wide Range of Automotive Parts

Additive manufacturing is compatible with an extremely wide range of materials, thus accommodating a wider range of automotive projects. This material flexibility can also allow you to test multiple materials to achieve the best performance and cost for your application. For example, our 3D printing services are compatible with UMA 90, CE 221, EMU 40/41, as well as numerous types of urethane and polyurethane materials.

Also Cost-Effective for Low-Volume Automotive Manufacturing

In addition to prototyping, 3D printing is suitable for certain low-volume automotive manufacturing projects. Additive manufacturing in itself is sometimes the most cost-effective method for producing niche or specialty components – such as low-volume aftermarket parts or rare vehicle components.


Common Injection Molded Automotive Products Optimized for 3D Printing:

Exterior Components and Body Panels – Automotive exterior trim pieces and body panels are ideal candidates for 3D printed prototyping. Critical to a vehicle’s looks and performance, additive manufacturing lets us produce rapid samples of your carefully engineered exterior parts so that you can test the structural integrity of your designs while simultaneously checking for fitment, compatibility, and aesthetics.

Interior Trim and Dashboard Components – Modern vehicle interiors are likewise packed to the brim with molded plastic panels and components. Before investing in producing these complex products on the injection molding line, additive manufacturing lets you check the viability of your designs for fitment and durability, as well as subjective quality and aesthetics.

Passenger Convenience, Comfort, and In-Car Entertainment – Electronics accessories and in-car entertainment (ICE) devices are more prominent than ever in today’s passenger vehicles. Likewise, complex molded plastics for enhanced comfort and ergonomics have become the standard for seating, armrests, storage compartments, etc. – virtually any surface a passenger may touch.

3D printing gives us the opportunity to produce models of these complex products in record time, then iteratively redesign and test the prototypes to achieve better functionality and performance.

Engine Parts and Underhood Components – From airbox and tubing components to sensor housings, connectors, and a huge range of mounts/brackets, modern vehicle engine bays are packed to the brim with complex components and engine accessories that demand precision for compatibility. 3D printing lets you carefully test the fit and form of your custom prototype parts with minimum upfront costs.

Michigan’s Leading 3D Printing Specialist for the Automotive Industry and Beyond

Elite Mold & Engineering is proud to be one of America’s leading injection molding companies specializing in 3D printed prototyping for the automotive manufacturing sector. Our full-service capabilities range from prototype to production, offering our customers a streamlined, single-source solution from prototype to production. 

Published: September 19, 2023
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