GMâs rapid prototyping lab features 18 machines from 3D Systems that are used to attentively build about 20,000 unique parts per year. On the campus of the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, is a 9,000 ftÂ² laboratory where theyâre building a wide variety of prototypesâfrom bumpers to spoilers and almost everything in betweenâwith selective laser sintering (SLS) and stereo lithography (SLA), technology thatâs commonly referred to as ârapid prototypingâ (RP) and which is becoming known as âadditive manufacturingâ (AM). The GM RP lab features 18 machines from 3D Systems, which makes itÂ one of the places with the greatestÂ concentration of AM equipmentÂ outside of companies that specializeÂ in the process (typically known asÂ âservice bureausâ).
Why is GM using it? Because of twoÂ big drivers in auto today: ReducingÂ product development cost and time-to-market.
The lab is manned by 15 specialistsÂ who work three shifts, six days aÂ week, taking part orders from GMÂ design centers all over the worldÂ to crank out some 20,000 uniqueÂ parts a year. Parts are built fromÂ one of two additive technologies:Â SLS, where a laser fuses layers ofÂ powdered material together, or SLA,Â where a laser cures liquid polymer,Â layer by layer. Parts are built withinÂ hours and then express shipped toÂ their destination, allowing designersÂ and engineers to spend more timeÂ evaluating changes and less timeÂ waiting for parts compared toÂ conventional prototyping methods.
âThe return on investment has been significant, especially when you figure in the elimination of tooling,â says Dave Bolognino, GM Director of Design Fabrication Operations. He uses a register vent as an example. âIf you look at the complexity in that part alone, back in the old days, somebody would have to carve that or make it in clay just to get a look at it. Now we can go right to the machine and get a functional part much, much quicker than you could ever get an aesthetic part.â
Bolognino says the automaker has been using additive technology for the past 20 years. But back in the early days, he says, the speed, materials, and accuracy limited the technology to just vehicle mockups. Now, it has advanced to a point where bumpers, grilles, spoilers, and mirrorsâparts that would be difficult to quickly make any other wayâcan be accurately built.
The only limitation is the work envelope of the machines. The labâs largest machine features a work envelope of 500 x 500 x 750 mm, so to build bigger parts, sections are produced, and then assembled.
Not Just ForÂ Prototyping