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3D Printing And The EV Market

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With the world battling climate-change concerns, the electric vehicle has become the motoring industry’s choice to address greenhouse gas emissions. And car manufacturers are exploring exciting 3D fabrication technologies to advance their operations to meet the expected demand.

The key component of every electric vehicle (EV) is, of course, the battery. An EV uses the same — but much larger — rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that run your laptops and mobile phones. Even though the cost of producing EV batteries has    come down over the years, they represent a significant amount that translates to EVs being priced at a premium compared to their fuel-run cousins. Now an American-based company is set to revolutionise new industrial-grade 3D printers for e-mobility batteries. In August 2021, Sakuu Corporation started a pilot line for the production of 3D-printed solid-state batteries.

With this breakthrough, Sakuu hopes to help unlock the mainstream adoption of EVs and similar e-mobility vehicles by solving the issues of not just cost, but also other consumer concerns. One such concern is range anxiety — drivers don’t want their EVs to run out of juice too quickly. And with reported cases of EVs catching fire from faulty batteries, the battery’s reliability and safety will also be on their minds.

With the help of Japanese automotive supplier Musashi Seimitsu, these 3D-printed solid-state batteries are only half the size of a typical EV battery and weigh a third lighter, but possesses the same energy output! They also have green credentials: these batteries will also use 30–50% less material to produce than conventional ones. They are also safer than conventional ones because they do away with flammable liquids, thus reducing the possibility of them catching fire. They are also quick to charge and have the potential to extend range by as much as 50%. For would-be EV consumers, these check all the right boxes.

It used to be that car manufacturers shunned 3D printing because the process accepted only a limited number of materials — the range of materials has since been expanded significantly. There are now so many additive manufacturing (AM) materials available; of particular interest to car manufacturers are the lightweight polymers, which can help them transition from traditional metals without sacrificing strength, quality and safety when producing certain car components. These AM materials can be customised with specific mechanical properties to suit certain uses, making them highly flexible and attractive for EV development and manufacturing.

To this end, Hyundai has partnered Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University to explore the use of AM technology in EV manufacturing, customising ordering vehicles tailored to the EV customer’s sense of style. Even though Hyundai is no stranger to 3D technology, the growing EV movement has accelerated their need to be at the forefront of sustainability technologies, such as AM, in their future vehicles.

Even though 3D printing is gaining traction in the motoring industry, the initial setup cost and economies of scale are currently big barriers to entry and hindering its potential. That may soon change as the EV market is rapidly expanding across the globe. In the long run, we are likely to see the mass adoption of AM technology as production of EVs goes into hyperdrive.