General Motors sees great value in 3D printing, and one day, the machines will be integral to the manufacturing process. Today, however, 3D printers take on smaller tasks, though they still pinch pennies for the automaker and create additional synergies.
Automotive News Europe reported on Wednesday that 3D printers have the ability to save GM millions of dollars in annual production costs. Right now, the savings are minimal; a $35,000 3D printer has saved the company more than $300,000 over two years in tools and other accessories. In the future, expanded use will only create additional savings.
The printer at the Lansing Delta plant, for example, created a tool to align engine and transmission vehicle identification numbers. The tool would normally cost $3,000 from a third party—GM 3D printed the piece for less than $3.
GM also imagines 3D printing will help keep costs and weight down for future electric cars, as the company unveiled GM and Autodesk are working together to eventually manufacture 3D-printed parts and components last May. GM showed off a 3D-printed stainless steel seat bracket created with Autodesk technology, and the part is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than a traditional component.
Workers at the plant often submit suggestions to further use the 3D printer to create a safer and more efficient manufacturing environment, too. Socket covers, hangers for parts and other ergonomic and safety tools are a few of the expanded uses for the 3D printer.
How sure is GM of its future in 3D printing? There will be one in every single manufacturing facility someday, per Dan Grieshaber, GM’s director of global manufacturing integration.
“We’re quickly evolving, creating real value for the plant,” he said. “This will become, as we progress, our footprint. We’ll have this in every one of our sites.”