Cadillac Blackwing sedans to be GM's first production cars with printed parts
3D printing applications have become commonplace in consumer products to include sneakers, jewelry and Ikea clothing hooks.
Add Detroit auto manufacturing to the list.
General Motors Co. has established a 3D printing center at its Warren Tech Center called the Additive Industrialization Center. With 24 3D printers, the 15,000-square-foot facility is the hub of GM’s acceleration of so-called “additive engineering” in its manufacturing process.
Adding speed and efficiency to production, 3D printing is now used on everything from GMC Hummer EV and Corvette prototypes to finished vehicles like the 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing sedans.
The Cadillac performance sedans will be the first GM production vehicles to feature printed parts – most prominently an emblem on the manual shifter knob. Other parts include the electrical harness bracket and a pair of HVAC ducts.
With auto-development cycles under relentless pressure to speed production, 3D printing has become an essential tool.
“The core component of GM’s transformation is becoming a more agile, innovative company, and 3D printing will play a critical role in that mission,” said GM Additive Design and Materials Engineering chief Audley Brown. “Compared to traditional processes, 3D printing can produce parts in a matter of days versus weeks or months at a significantly lower cost.”
For example, development of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette was assisted by 3D-printed brake ducts that were put through grueling track tests. While evolving through four design changes, the printed plastic parts cut brake-development time from 10 weeks to just one, saving 64% of budget costs in the process.
The prototype for the forthcoming GMC Hummer EV pickup contains 17 printed battery-pack parts — components that have saved 50% of development time as GM rushes to bring the Hummer to market ahead of competitors like the Tesla Cybertruck.
“Three-D printed parts are currently suited to low-volume production like the Cadillac,” said Ali Shabbir, GM Engineering Group Manager for Additive Design and Manufacturing Product Applications. “A high-volume product like the Chevy Silverado would not be cost-effective today for additive-engineered parts. But 3D printing was certainly part of its development.”
Silverado’s sister, truck-based SUVs — the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban — benefited from nearly 100 hand tools that were printed at Arlington Assembly in Texas. The tools saved two months in the development process. Constructed with a nylon-carbon fiber composite, the parts weighed as little as three pounds compared to traditional tools weighing 10 to 40 pounds.
Warren Tech has been a hive of 3D printing development this year. They played a crucial role in the company’s contribution to the “Arsenal of Health” — as GM pivoted from making vehicles to medical devices in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak to assist hospitals and caregivers.
Applied engineering has been critical in the success of the IMSA Weathertech Series-winning Corvette C8.R. The GT racer carried 75 3D-printed parts, including essentials like the oil tank and oil cap and headlight assemblies. GM says that racing is a critical test bed for 3D parts as race teams hustle to prepare their thoroughbreds from week-to-week.
Given the brand’s high-tech profile, the Cadillac V-series cars were a deliberate choice to show off the company’s first 3D printed production application.
“And, this is just the beginning," said Brown. "Ultimately, we see the potential for 3D printed parts to be used in a wide variety of production applications — from greater personalization options for new-vehicle buyers, to unique accessories and reproductions of classic car parts.”
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.