Additive Manufacturing for Customized Ride Comfort

Using the German RepRap x500 3D printer speeds up development processes for functional structural components at Sika Automotive. A wide variety of customizable solutions also offer the company new possibilities in terms of materials and designs.

Most of the current mid-size and full-size vehicle models offer sophisticated interior acoustics and perfect air quality. In order to protect the passengers from dust, humidity, and noise, several automotive manufacturers use Sika Automotive's high-tech materials for their body manufacturing. The solutions specialist for body bonding, sealing, attenuation, and reinforcement delivers extremely sturdy and yet lightweight chassis components to the OEMs.

For a pilot project, Sika Automotive developed a plastic part to be installed in the lower A-pillar and B-pillar areas of a premium vehicle. This component is made from robust polyamide and the elastic material SikaBaffle®, and it features a complex shape. SikaBaffle® is what gives the component its sealing and attenuating properties. It is printed at the edges of the component and expands during an e-coating procedure, which is applied during a later assembly step. This expansion seals the area around the edges.

Typically, body structures are modified five to ten times between the first prototype of the vehicle and the pilot run. This also applies to this component. Until now, this required several prototypes to be manufactured. Each modification of the body structure geometry also necessitated a redesign of this plastic part. This meant that for each modification, new injection molds has to be created – a great effort, considering that the manufacturing of each injection mold takes several hours.

In order to shorten the development phases, Sika Automotive started looking for an FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) printer capable of processing third-party filaments. At the AMX 2018, the trade show for additive manufacturing, the company found KVT-Fastening, which offers an extensive portfolio of professional 3D printing solutions – among them products from 3D printer manufacturer German RepRap.

Given the complex printing process requirements, KVT-Fastening and German RepRap developed a customized solution in collaboration with their customer, Sika Automotive. This involved modifications of the German RepRap x500 to optimize it for processing the heat-reactive thermoplastic SikaBaffle®, a material which is too soft for most extruders. Thanks to the x500 printer’s open material platform, the printing parameters could be adjusted precisely to this specialty thermoplastic.

During the course of 2018, Sika Automotive and German RepRap ran successful tests with the FFF printer and achieved the necessary high process reliability. KVT-Fastening followed the pilot project and, in December of 2018, delivered the first of the two x500 printers ordered. Now that Sika Automotive is able to directly produce these components by dual printing, the development phases of such components have become much shorter for the company.

Using efficient FFF technology, including the necessary processing of technically demanding materials, opens new doors for Sika Automotive. This is how the company can now deliver plastic parts for smaller series as well. In addition, materials specialists have more freedom in the design of their components, thanks to the possibilities provided by the use of the 3D printer. The “Direct Drive system,” carefully thought-out, allows the German RepRap x500 to print a large variety of different materials. This is the beginning of a new design era for Sika Automotive, which combined with the specially developed materials, promises great potential.

KVT-Fastening can now customize any 3D printer in their portfolio to the requirements of individual customers. A team of specialists collaborates with the customer during the entire setup process – from consulting and initial tests to installation and a complete service program for the devices.

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