Automotive Giant Delphi Leverages Carbon 3D Printing for Prototyping and More
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on June 03, 2016 |

Now that the 2015 hype surrounding Carbon’s ultrafast continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) technology has worn off, it’s time to understand exactly what the company’s newly released M1 3D printer can be used for. News of the Silicon Valley startup’s early customers has been released slowly in the form of case studies. The latest comes from Delphi Automotive, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of auto parts. Delphi is making use of CLIP 3D printing for prototyping, while eyeing its use for short-run production.

Due to the layerless nature of CLIP, the M1 is uniquely capable of 3D printing isotropic parts so that the microscopic fibers that make up an object are uniform in every direction. Also, in addition to the typical UV-curing agent found in similar technologies, the photopolymers that the process uses include a heat-activated reactive chemistry that results in increased strength. In turn, not only is CLIP a fast process, producing objects in a manner of minutes, but prints made by the M1 have physical properties that closely resemble parts made with injection molding.

Delphi received its M1 3D printer in the fall of 2015, a new addition to the company’s existing additive manufacturing technologies. Due to the aforementioned physical properties attainable with CLIP 3D printing, Delphi has been able to use the technology to produce functional prototypes, something it says it hasn’t been able to do in the past with previous 3D printing platforms. 

Grommets, electrical connectors and other components 3D printed by Delphi with the M1 platform. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)
Grommets, electrical connectors and other components 3D printed by Delphi with the M1 platform. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)

Delphi’s manager of additive manufacturing development, Jerry Rhinehart, elaborated on the ability to produce functional prototypes, ”We’re excited to expand our work with the M1 to functional prototyping—something we haven’t been able to do until now—and to explore new manufacturing opportunities as a whole. It’s all about the materials and mechanical properties that we can achieve with Carbon’s technology. Traditional materials only provided about 50 percent of the mechanical properties we need to produce functional and final parts. We’re currently using the M1 on a project to install a batch of connectors and other electrical components into a 25-car fleet this June for road and validation tests.”

3D-printed electrical components being tested by Delphi. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)
3D-printed electrical components being tested by Delphi. (Image courtesy of Carbon.)

Among the parts being 3D printed by Delphi are wiring grommets, made from Carbon’s elastomeric polyurethane (EPU) material; electrical connectors, made with rigid polyurethane (RPU); and housings made from flexible polyurethane (FPU) to protect objects during product assembly. In addition to the mechanical properties possible with CLIP, the resolution that can be achieved without visible layers also leaves CLIP-printed prototypes resembling their end products. The accuracy of the technology is, therefore, ideal for producing such objects as electrical connectors, which are complex and feature locking mechanisms that may not be possible with 3D printing processes that create less refined products. 

While Delphi has already made use of the M1 machine for bypassing the costs and 6- to 12-week wait time of prototype tooling, the automotive giant is also considering its use for end part production. The economics of injection molding has previously driven the company toward mass production; however, with CLIP, Delphi may be able to venture into new product categories that only require short production runs. 

At the same time, the technology can be used by engineers who are designing new products not possible with traditional manufacturing processes. Rhinehart explained, “Engineers can start to redesign parts from the ground up without being constrained by the design rules associated with traditional manufacturing technologies. They can consider lighter weight parts using internal mesh structures, single assembly parts that will better address sealing needs and reduce overall complexity of product assembly, and ultimately decrease part and product failure modes because of this new design freedom.”

The case studies released by Carbon so far demonstrate the M1 as a 3D printer ideal for producing prototypes that accurately resemble mass manufactured components. As the startup’s large customers, such as Ford and BMW, gain more hands-on experience with the machine, it will be interesting to see how they are able to apply this technology for end parts, as well.

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