How 3D printing is helping the automotive industry tackle supply chain issues

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Engineers working on the Tahoe modified the design of the spoiler on the upper portion of the vehicle’s tailgate to ensure the large SUV meets its fuel economy certification numbers if tested by the EPA. The revamped spoiler required a new part, what GM calls a fence seal. The rubber components mount on each end of the spoiler, just above the tailgate.

The part is normally made in a process called injection molding. But a new injection-molded closure gasket, GM learned, would take at least 12 weeks to produce.

Bardsley, the design engineer for the fence seal, worked with engineers at two GM labs at the company’s sprawling Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. First, the Additive Innovation Lab 3D printed a few fence seals to test if a version of the part could meet the automaker’s quality and appearance standards.

“We were able to get gaskets fairly quickly for preliminary testing. We wanted to replicate the injection molded gasket as closely as possible,” Bardsley said.

With early seals showing promise, GM’s Additive Industrialization Center made the next iteration of the seal from production material to determine if it could be mass-produced. Bardsley held samples of the second iteration in his hand in just two days. From there, GM solicited bids from suppliers to manufacture the part.

The job was done by GKN Forecast 3D, a Carlsbad, CA company, part of GKN Additive.

“We had the right technology and the right capabilities at the right time to solve this particular problem,” said John Dulchinos, president of GKN Additive. Automotive News.

GKN has invested in additive manufacturing machines that use a form of binder jet printing, which can manufacture multiple parts at once.

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