How will car manufacturing change in the future?

The pursuit of efficiency is driving a number of trends worldwide, especially in the automotive industry. While most of them so far are addressing on-road problems such as fuel economy, some are looking to bring this to the manufacturing sector as well. 

New developments in this sector could allow automotive manufacturers to have access to greener materials that can be produced at a lower cost, reducing the industry's environmental impact in a cost-effective manner. 

How will they do it?

One of the leading contenders is 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing), which could bring a revolution to the manufacturing sector as a whole if it takes off. While it has been influential for hobbyists for years now, it still has not been completely adopted commercially.

An article in The Deloitte University Press (DUP) by Craig A. Giffi, Bharath Gangula and Pandarinath Illinda states this is likely to change in the coming years, however, as companies realise the benefits of these methods for large-scale production. 

Currently, automotive manufacturers are using it in a similar way to smaller businesses, by turning out prototypes quickly and cheaply. 

According to the authors, this could greatly reduce the time spent in the product design phase, with this technology speeding up the process of constructing multiple iterations, meaning fleet managers get their hands on new cars faster. 

"For example, a well-known tyre company uses AM to rapidly create prototypes during the design process and chooses the best design after checking the touch and feel of various alternatives," explained the report. 

"The physical models give the company an advantage over competitors who may be limited to design specifications and plans alone when sharing new products with their OEM customers."

Will the 3D printing industry support this?

According to research firm Gartner, the market for 3D printers is growing, with this year's shipments expected to double what was recorded in 2014. Gartner is expecting 217,350 3D printers to ship this year, compared to just 108,151 last year. 

The forecast is for shipments to continue to double until 2018, when approximately 2.3 million will make their way into the hands of consumers. 

"As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, bear in mind that even the 2.3 million shipments that we forecast will be sold in 2018 are a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organisations worldwide," said Research Vice President Pete Basiliere.

With consumer support backing the industry, there is no reason why it can't begin to shape commercial manufacturing as well.