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GM Ramps Up 3D Printing Efforts

Corvette prototyping, COVID medical applications pave the way for production parts

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General Motors aims to begin using 3D-printed parts in production vehicles in the next few years.

GM Additive Innovation Center (Image: GM)

No details were provided about the plan.

But the company continues to expand its capabilities in the emerging technology, thanks in part to using the additive process to produce personal protection equipment and medical devices in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Rapid 3D Response

As the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. this year, GM and other automakers and suppliers looked for ways to quickly transition their manufacturing facilities to help combat the disease and support medical workers.

Additive manufacturing has played a critical role in the effort. GM is applying the technology in several areas to fight COVID-19, including:

  • Tooling to make ventilators in partnership with Ventec Life Systems and Hamilton Medical
  • Developing prototype face shields for first responders
  • Manufacturing face shields and “ear savers” used in conjunction with protective masks

3D-printed fixtures for ventilators (Image: GM)

The automaker was able to quickly ramp up production, thanks to its manufacturing know-how and partnership with 3D-printing specialist Prusa Research. Another benefit: GM was able to use many of the same materials that it uses for automotive production.

To date, GM facilities have produced more than 250,000 face shields, and the carmaker is in the process of building 30,000 ventilators.

“We could not have responded to the coronavirus as quickly as we did without 3D printing,” said Ron Daul, GM director of additive manufacturing. “The investment in both our additive manufacturing facilities and training the team to leverage 3D printing for development has enabled us to pivot to making ventilators and personal protective equipment virtually overnight.”

Corvette Prototyping

GM, which has used 3D printing since 1989 to help build prototype parts faster, took the process to a new level during the development of the redesigned Chevrolet Corvette.

2020 Corvette

Three-fourths of the parts used to create the first physical version of the all-new model were 3D printed—the most ever for any GM vehicle. The process enabled engineers to more quickly diagnose and correct issues to help reduce overall development time and costs.

GM used the technology to test and implement Corvette-first features such as a retractable hardtop, right-hand drive for international markets and the car’s mid-engine layout.

What’s Next?

Last year, GM opened a new Additive Innovation Lab within the company’s massive Warren, Mich., technical center. More than 700 workers have been trained at the a 4,000-sq-ft complex.

A second facility, the Additive Industrialization Center, is due to open in Warren later this year to help the carmaker commercialize 3D parts in new cars and trucks.

“3D printing helps us design and build parts and products faster and in ways we previously couldn’t,” says Kevin Quinn, GM director of additive design and manufacturing. He says the company is excited about future opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency.