How Does SEAT Use 3D Printing in Production?
The combination of 3D printing and automotive production has proven to be highly successful. Numerous automotive companies have already embraced additive manufacturing as an integral part of their production processes. Notably, we can point to industry leaders such as BMW and General Motors who have established centers dedicated to 3D printing components for their vehicles. And though of course it is a huge trend in the USA, this is also increasingly evident in Europe. SEAT, a renowned car manufacturer, has recently inaugurated a 3D printing center to enhance its production capabilities with cutting-edge technologies. In order to gain further insights into how the Spanish automaker is utilizing this method, we conducted an interview with their team.
3DN: Can you please briefly introduce yourself and tell us more about how you got into 3D printing?
My name is Marc Travesset, and I am a chemical engineer based in Barcelona. During my studies, back in 2007, I had an enlightening experience during a visit to Ascamm, now Eurecat, where I encountered a fascinating machine that utilized lasers to apply plastic powder. Although I initially pursued other interests in membrane technologies and epoxy resin production, the memory of that “magic machine” stayed with me. It wasn’t until years later, when I encountered the same technology at SEAT, where I worked as the person responsible for prototype parts, that my passion for 3D printing truly ignited. Since 2018, I have been fortunate enough to actively engage with these technologies and deepen my understanding of the subject. I may not fit the typical profile of a Maker, as my perspective has always been focused on exploring the industrial possibilities of 3D printing.
3DN: When did SEAT decide to integrate 3D printing into its processes?
For over 20 years, we have been leveraging the power of 3D printing in our operations. In the realm of product development, flexibility is crucial due to the inherent complexity of the work involved. Thankfully, at SEAT, we possess the capability to swiftly validate concepts and achieve significant milestones in our development journey with speed and confidence.
3DN: What 3D printing projects are you currently working on at SEAT?
During a presentation by Felip Fenollosa, Director of CIM at the Technical University of Barcelona and an Industrial Engineer, the potential benefits of additive manufacturing were highlighted, focusing on its flexibility, adaptability, and sustainability. Flexibility has proven to be a remarkable advantage, allowing us to achieve significant milestones in development and launch, drawing upon our extensive experience. To maximize this capability, a study was conducted in collaboration with EURECAT and RMS, as part of CIAC, to explore the use of 3D printed components as a means to prevent future supply bottlenecks.
In terms of customization, we have successfully created numerous assembly and test fixtures to date. Moving forward, our aim is to delve further into this realm and take the next leap forward.In the context of sustainability, we have a unique opportunity to create lighter vehicle components by harnessing the limitless design possibilities offered by additive manufacturing. Currently, we are actively conducting trials in this area, seeking to enhance our sustainability efforts.
3DN: What are the advantages and limitations of additive manufacturing?
The automotive industry greatly benefits from the inherent flexibility of 3D technologies. The ability to obtain an assemblable and testable part within a week brings substantial value to our processes. Additionally, when combined with other technologies like machining, we can acquire various types of tooling suitable for nearly any application. However, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of these technologies, such as the relatively high cost of materials and the lower productivity compared to traditional manufacturing methods. As of now, it remains unlikely that these technologies will be extensively employed for mass production purposes.
3DN: How do you see the future of 3D printing in the automotive industry?
First of all, it is important that all players in the sector understand the potential that 3D printing offers us. The automotive industry is a huge industry, so any improvement, no matter how small it seems, can have a very big impact. With 3D printing, we have the flexibility to implement small changes almost immediately. As materials and processes become more powerful and repeatable, we can get even more out of them throughout their lifecycle.
3DN: Do you have any final words for our readers?
As an automotive company, we often use 3D printing for our internal processes. Steve Jobs once said that the best technology is invisible. So I would encourage you to keep looking and thinking about ways to improve our lives with these “magic machines”.
What do you think of SEAT? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.
*All Photo credits: SEAT