For Boeing Starliner and Goodyear Tesla tires, 3-D printing is reality
A non-pneumatic tire (NPT), shows an airless tire during the presentation of Goodyear’s NPT tire on May 17, 2022 in Colmar-Burg, Luxembourg, where the tire maker has a new plant where it is experimenting with 3 -With 3D printing.
Francois Wallscharts | AFP | Getty Images
Additive manufacturing is on the verge of more widespread adoption by the industry, as big corporates Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Boeing as well as smaller innovative start-ups prove it can do a great job in manufacturing at scale.
In May, Goodyear opened a $77 million plant in Luxembourg that focuses on 3-D printing and can make tires up to four times faster in smaller batches than conventional production. Goodyear is also testing its new 3-D printed airless tire technology on Tesla electric vehicles and Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robot. It has been working on improved manufacturing techniques for the past several years at an R&D center near Columbus, Ohio.
By 2030, Goodyear aims to bring maintenance-free and airless tires to market, and 3-D printing is part of that effort thanks to the Akron-based tire maker, founded in 1898 and named after innovator Charles Goodyear. Currently, about 2% of its production is through additive manufacturing and more integration into the mix is in sight.
“Like any innovation, it’s important to target the right use case. 3-D printing isn’t for every job. We’re using additive manufacturing for high-end, ultra-high performance tires, with lots of More complexity is required, and size in smaller lots,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, global operations and CTO at Goodyear. “There’s still a benefit to having large runs of tires efficiently run through a typical assembly line.”
Taking advantage of new technology requires patience. “You can’t bring it in, turn it on. It’s not a short trip. We’ve been on this route for 10-12 years,” Helsel said. In the initial commercialization of its 3-D printed airless tires in 2017, Goodyear began equipping premium lawnmower models made by Bad Boy Movers.
Recent history and future development of 3-D printing
The technique of printing objects layer by layer from computerized designs dates back to the early 1980s. It is now replacing factories and is no longer considered a novelty, although it was made popular in the consumer hobby market a decade ago by desktop 3-D printing firm MakerBot. Today, a range of products are being made additively from airplane parts to tooth alignment and car seats.
This new technology is being seen as a competitive advantage, and a way to increase the US manufacturing base and supply chain. But it cannot revolutionize industrial production as a whole.
“Additive manufacturing is still a very small, specialized technology,” said Jörg Bromberger, director of strategy and operations at McKinsey in Berlin and lead author of the consulting firm’s recent report on industrial technology. “Heavy investment in additive manufacturing may bring some impact but it is still very limited,” he said.
Primarily useful for making particularly high-value parts and small production volumes, Bromberger estimates additive manufacturing at 2-3% of the $12 trillion production market.
Wohlers Associates, a 3-D printing industry consultant, expects additive manufacturing to grow at a relatively strong pace and predicts that the worldwide market will reach $85.3 billion in 2031 from $15.2 billion in 2021. The major industrial sector using the technology is aerospace, followed by medicine/dentistry. and automotive, while the most common applications for 3-D printing are for making end-use parts and functional prototypes, according to the firm’s Wohlers Report 2022.
Key benefits of the technology include design flexibility in various 3-D shapes that can improve or reduce costs, and optimized production of parts. Other benefits are reducing time-consuming, pre-production processes and creating products on-demand from digital files.
One of the main barriers to adoption is investment cost. Prices for industrial 3-D printing machines can vary from $25,000 to $500,000 and up to $1 million for giant systems. Further limitations are a lack of engineering talent to implement the technology, a knowledge gap between businesses about why and how to use it, cultural resistance on the shop floor to change, and very little end-to-end End 3-D Printing System.
Consolidation of suppliers operating in the industrial market can provide more complete service and one-stop shopping for manufacturers. For example, Burlington, Mass.-based Desktop Metal acquired The Xeon Company in North Huntingdon, Pa., in a November 2021 deal that brought multiple additive manufacturing solutions under one roof.
But the stock market reception of 3-D printing as a pure-sport investment topic hasn’t been good in recent years. Desktop metal has lost about 80% of its value since going public in 2021, and the performance of other 3-D printing sector plays has been poor despite the technology’s advances.
In another notable partnership, some of the country’s biggest industrialists are working with the family-owned Rust Belt firm to 3-D print components.
Hamtown Products, a 63-year-old, family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, adopted 3-D printing in 2014 as an efficient way of manufacturing industrial cores and molds. Its early adoption helped the company stay in business after the 2009 recession and as the US foundry business moved offshore or collapsed due to cheap foreign competition. Humtown Products was able to retain large corporate clients including GE, Caterpillar and Cummins.
Today, its additive manufacturing division accounts for 55% of total revenue and is growing at 50% annually. Owner and president Mark Lamoncha said that pointing to 3-D printing was the company’s “Kodak moment.” “If you’re not next, you’re out of business,” Lamoncha said. “This industry is at a critical point for commercialization and in many disciplines it is the equivalent of driving a race car,” he said.
Truck engine maker Cummins is using Hamtown as a supplier that can improve its accuracy in manufacturing 3-D printed castings, and has streamlined production by printing larger parts in a single piece instead of composites. “We’ve had good success with this. Volumes are starting to go up, and while prices are still a little higher than with traditional processes, it’s a lot more accurate, and we’ve been able to triple our process capacity, or output, said Cummins technical advisor Larry Lee.
Hamtown Products, a 63-year-old, family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, first adopted 3-D printing in 2014 to manufacture industrial cores and molds for customers including GE, Cummins and Caterpillar.
Hamtown Products was able to tap into the technology in Youngstown through a slew of 3-D printing resources that business, government and academia have supported to help revitalize the local economy of the former Steel Town. This tech hub encompasses several entities that put Northeast Ohio at the fore of the 3-D printing industrial revolution: the government-backed industry accelerator Builds America, the Youngstown business incubator that houses 12 additive startups, such as industrial machine builders and designer Juggernaut 3D, and Yongstown State University’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing and a new $12 million Excellence Training Center.
“The region is seeing an opportunity to build a workforce around this technology, but there is still a knowledge gap between the lessons learned and the success stories,” said John Wielczynski, America Mex executive director. “We’re aiming to fill that gap.”
Aerospace company Boeing is working hard to refine its approach to additive manufacturing. Boeing’s Additive Manufacturing Fabrication Center in Auburn, Washington, is designed to conduct research using cutting-edge technology.
“For the industry, it’s definitely a competitive advantage because you can design in ways you can’t with traditional production,” said Melissa Orme, vice president of additive manufacturing since 2019, a role that The company cuts three businesses into units manufacturing commercial airplanes, satellites and defense systems. She works with a team of 100 engineers, researchers and other experts to help advance the development of the technology.
Orme cited advantages in shorter lead times to production by a factor of ten, a larger one-piece streamlined design for assembly, and increased durability.
“Right now, we’re super mature in using 3-D printing for satellites,” she said. “Having 3-D printed parts on every satellite could become the standard.”
For a subsidiary of Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems, which was acquired in 2018 as a maker of small satellites for national security space, this year 100% 3-D printed satellites will cost 30% less and production lead times. Designed with a five-month crunch. A regular user of the technology for many years, Boeing also has 3-D printed parts for helicopters and seats for the Starliner spacecraft, as well as components for the Boeing 787, and tooling for 787 aircraft wings.
Nevertheless, challenges remain in the adoption of new technology. “It requires a cultural shift to embrace it,” Orme said. “Engineers are taught to design with less risk, and this leads them to traditional manufacturing. We need more production data for the additive to reach the level of comfort in the design,” she said, adding that the traditional Equivalent to seven decades of data on manufacturing. “Once we do that, we can eliminate or reduce the risk of this evolving technology,” she said.