“But even a week or two weeks after the workshop, when we started to break out into small groups, they started to become very, very enthused about it to the point where they are actually funding projects within their own companies to investigate other areas where they could do it for the GM program,” says Lentine. “It’s being organically adopted by the companies.”
As the tool suppliers become more experienced with AM, they are helping GM develop specifications for hand tools for manual assembly and eventually for tools for automated cells. “When the tool gets into an automated cell that’s unmanned, there are a lot of requirements to make sure that it runs properly and doesn’t break down and stop the line,” explains Lentine. “How do we get this into automation, how do we lightweight robots, how do we speed up our automation cells? That’s what a lot of these requirements are really marching toward. A lot of the items that we’re getting through now will prove that we can do that in the long run.”
Lentine’s goal is to have some specifications for 3D-printed, nylon-carbon-fiber material tooling added to GM’s build specifications document by year’s end.
Future assembly lines are likely to include both printed composite and metal tooling. “There are certain areas that are either lower risk or not carrying the full vehicle body itself where we can implement and insert this technology to help lightweight and get toward either faster tool production or faster vehicle production by reducing cycle time,” says Lentine. “But we will never replace all of the steel and aluminum components that we use today.”
There are, however, more uses for 3D-printed tooling that haven’t yet been explored. “We believe in this technology and its ability to save time and cost,” says Russell. “We don’t know where the envelope is yet, and the envelope changes as we come out with better, stronger materials.”