Dec 10, 2019

IoT in Automotive Manufacturing: The Role of 3D-Printed Electronics

automotive iot 3d printed electronicsMajor automotive OEMs have started to embrace the central ideas in Industry 4.0. With newer automakers opening advanced manufacturing centers and making greater use of additive manufacturing systems, 3D-printed IoT devices and mechanical components are taking up more space in new automobiles. In particular, electronic systems in new automobiles are turning cars into a connected IoT ecosystem, and additive manufacturing systems will help accelerate innovation in this area.

Similarly, factories for producing the wealth of mechanical and electrical components for vehicles are moving toward a digital manufacturing mindset. IoT in automotive manufacturing requires a range of new electronics for equipment monitoring and communication. 3D printing plays a unique role in both areas in terms of IoT product development and digitization in connected factories. With more OEMs and vehicles themselves becoming digitized and connected, automotive manufacturers should take note of the role of additive manufacturing systems in this new landscape.

Connected vehicle ecosystem

IoT in automotive manufacturing will connect new vehicles with people and infrastructure.

3D Printing and IoT in Automotive Manufacturing

Automotive OEMs are already using or planning to make greater use of additive manufacturing systems to complement their traditional manufacturing and assembly lines. Although additive manufacturing systems are not the holy grail of cost reduction, they provide significant benefits in areas of new product introduction, prototyping, supply chain management, and reduced part complexity. Major industry players, such as Daimler, BMW, Schaeffler AG, and Ford, are taking advantage of the inherent connectivity and customizability provided by 3D printing systems.

In the realm of IoT products, major automotive manufacturers also recognize the value of a digital manufacturing strategy and are turning their factories into IoT-connected ecosystems with the goal of increasing output, controlling costs, and improving product quality. The inherently digital nature of additive manufacturing systems makes them a natural choice for complementing traditional manufacturing assets in this type of environment.

Although 3D printing is normally seen as a niche technology for manufacturing complex mechanical parts, newer additive manufacturing systems are enabling the fabrication of complex PCBs and electronic devices, including IoT devices to create new applications and solutions that make vehicles smarter. New cars will be transformed into IoT products as more vehicles become connected with infrastructure, our phones, the internet, and other vehicles. Similarly, IoT products will be critical for connecting new and legacy equipment in automotive manufacturing and assembly operations. Let’s look at the roles of IoT products in new cars and manufacturing operations in more depth.

New Automotive Manufacturing Facilities as IoT Ecosystems

Connected factories, both in the automotive space and in other industries, require a wealth of electronics built into new equipment or added to existing equipment. This equipment ranges from sensor arrays to gather more intelligence to devices for capturing and transmitting data throughout a factory for storage and analysis.

Additive manufacturing is playing a greater role in the automotive industry, with major OEMs running facilities with dozens of additive manufacturing units. Just as is the case with traditional manufacturing equipment, additive systems can be integrated into an IoT ecosystem in a connected factory. The variety of IoT devices in connected factories is critical for monitoring equipment health, product quality, and even workers themselves. These technologies are ideal for integrating traditional and additive manufacturing systems into a connected, responsive ecosystem, as well as with a central command and monitoring center. 

Currently, some major manufacturers in the aerospace and automotive industries analyze their production data in a centralized environment and use it to fine-tune their processes. As newer IoT systems become more advanced and more application-specific system on modules (SoMs) become available on the market, one can expect to see the computational load shift away from a central command center and out to the edge—i.e., to the IoT devices installed on manufacturing assets. This makes a factory more responsive to production problems, helps engineers predict required maintenance, and improve product quality.

Robotic arms for IoT in automotive manufacturing

IoT in automotive manufacturing turns factories into connected ecosystems.

The IoT Environment in New Vehicles

Just as IoT devices in a manufacturing facility help make a factory more responsive and interconnected, the IoT environment around new vehicles brings the same benefits. The range of IoT devices in new vehicles provides connectivity between the driver and their vehicle, between multiple vehicles, and between vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure. The connectivity between new vehicles provided by IoT products will help usher in fully autonomous vehicles.

Major automotive and technology companies in the United States are already investing in or planning to invest in more additive manufacturing systems, including systems for electronics production. With the technological demands in new vehicles, particularly autonomous vehicles with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, infotainment, navigation and predictive maintenance solutions, additive manufacturing systems can be used to produce more complex electronic devices that meet or exceed these demands. Using these systems for new product development also helps accelerate innovation of these complex electronics and move quickly to full-scale production.

The Role of Additive Manufacturing in IoT Design and Production

The automotive industry has used additive manufacturing to prototype tools and components since the 1980s. Additive manufacturing is ideal for bringing new IoT products to the automotive market and manufacturing facilities for a number of reasons. In addition to changing the cost structure for full-scale manufacturing, additive systems give designers greater freedom to innovate and help hasten design and development cycles for more complex electronics. The alternative is to source complex prototypes, typically an expensive and time-consuming process, especially for complicated designs and processes that include several trial and error cycles. 

The cost drivers and lead times involved in additive production are such that product development teams can keep up with accelerated design and production cycles, which can be challenging when developing new IoT products. Prototype PCBs for new IoT devices can be produced in-house with fixed fabrication time and predictable costs, allowing them to be immediately tested and qualified. This allows product designers to quickly qualify new IoT devices for use in new vehicles, and for connecting or monitoring manufacturing assets. In-house additive manufacturing is cost-competitive for small-to-medium batches. 

Whether carmakers are developing new electronics for vehicles or manufacturers are developing IoT devices for new automotive applications or monitoring production assets, additive manufacturing systems for electronics are ideal for rapid prototyping and manufacturing complex electronics at scale. The inherently digital nature of additive manufacturing also allows these assets to be integrated into existing or new manufacturing facilities, moving the industry closer to fully digital manufacturing.

Manufacturing in many industries is set to become more digitized than ever before, and IoT in automotive manufacturing is enabling this transformation. Whether you’re developing IoT products for new automobiles or devices for manufacturing systems, the DragonFly LDM system from Nano Dimension is the solution for producing these products in-house, within short lead times and at scale. This system provides low to medium-scale manufacturing of PCBs with a planar or non-planar geometry, complex interconnect architecture, and embedded components. Read a case study or contact us today to learn more about the DragonFly LDM system.


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