Many of the 3D printing stories that I talk about are using the tech to make smaller things and concept products. One of the places where the 3D printing and rapid prototyping is being used the most is in the automotive world. Before the first prototype is made in full scale, there are all sorts of revisions done from wind tunnel testing and other forms of testing that require the design and shape of certain parts on the vehicle to be changed.
GM uses rapid prototyping extensively to test new vehicle parts to improve the aerodynamics of a vehicles before an actual prototype is constructed. Traditionally this sort of testing with one-third scale models was done using a clay representation of the vehicle or wood. Today the engineers are able to use computational fluid dynamics software to test the parts in the computer environment and after the changes are tweaked, the parts can be made using the selective laser sintering and stereolithography techniques in the GM rapid prototyping lab.
The improvement in testing and rapid prototyping technology compared to clay or wood methods in the past has enabled GM to double the testing capacity it has over the last two years. The new techniques also mean that there are fewer changes that have to be made to the vehicles late in the development programs. Less changes late in the program allows the vehicles to come to market in less time and with lower costs.