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3D Printing Automotive Parts on Demand

A prospective customer recently approached Wolfpack Team Member and Airwolf 3D Sales Engineer Jack Licorish with an interesting problem and request. The customer ran an automotive shop and was curious about 3D printing automotive parts, hoping it would save his shop time and money. The problem? The customer was having trouble finding a 3D printer that was effective when it came to 3D printing flexible materials — specifically “Ninjaflex,” a specially formulated type of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE).

Always up for a challenge and committed to finding solutions for his customers, Jack set out to demonstrate how an Airwolf 3D Direct Drive printer can print end-parts out of traditionally difficult-to-use materials that are flexible, like TPE. When asked what specific sample part he would like to see printed on an Airwolf 3D Direct Drive printer, the customer requested a CV boot of any type. He wanted to see if it really was possible to 3D print the commonly used car part out of TPE.

What is a CV Boot?

Also called a “CV Joint Boot,” a CV boot is an accordian-like rubber part that is used to protect the CV, or “constant velocity,” joint of a car. Located between a car’s transmission and its wheels, the CV joint helps propel a car forward and allows it to turn left, right, forward, or backward with its front wheels.

CV Joint Boot and Axle

A CV joint boot and axle. Photo Credit: http://www.superhonda.com/

The CV boot not only covers and protects the CV joint, but also holds the grease that keeps the joint lubricated. When a CV boot cracks, dirt, rocks and other debris can get into the drive-axle joint, making for a bumpy ride and a telltale clicking noise when turning the wheel of the car.

Solution: 3D Print a CV Boot Using TPE

To create the sample part, Jack first needed to find a file to print. After doing a little research on Grabcad, Jack found a CAD file for a CV Joint Boot.

Automotive Part for 3D Printing

A 3D rendering of the CV boot that was later 3D printed in TPE. Photo Source: DVA on GrabCAD.

Using free online software called Babel3D, Jack converted the CAD file into an .STL file before using APEX 3D Printing Software to slice the part and create the gCode file required to print the part.

Because APEX is pre-configured with material profile settings optimized for Airwolf 3D printers, there were not many adjustments needed before slicing the part to create printable gCode.

Making sure “AXIOM (Direct Drive)” was selected under “Machine” in the top menu, Jack simply selected his desired settings from the “Quickprint” menu. He selected “TPE”, “Standard” print quality, and support “Everywhere.”

3D Printing Car Parts

While these settings surely would get the job done, Jack tweaked the settings just a little more. With his extensive experience in 3D printing, Jack knew that, with a few small changes, the part would be even easier to print.

To make the support material more effective — and easier to remove once the print was complete — Jack opened up “Expert Settings”, clicked the “More Settings” box (the button with the three dots on it) next to the “Support Type” field. He then made the following changes:

Overhang angle for support (deg): 45
Distance X/Y (mm): 1
Distance Z (mm): 0.2

3D printing for mechanics

Jack then “sliced” the part by saving it as gCode and printed it out on an AXIOM Direct Drive 3D printer.

The CV boot took a total of seven hours to print and came out perfectly. The total cost of materials was only $6.89.

3D Printed Car Parts

The final product: 3D-printed CV boots ready to install.

Benefits of 3D Printing Automotive Parts

If you live in or are stationed in a remote location with limited access to automotive service, 3D printing your own repair parts can be a lifesaver. Rather than waiting days or weeks (or even more!) for a repair, you simply can use your 3D printer to make the parts you need.

When it comes to professional automotive use, adding 3D printing to your workflow provides even more benefits, helping to cut costs, save time, and provide virtually limitless customization options.

3D Printer for Automotive

The Airwolf 3D AXIOM Direct Drive printer (single nozzle) was used to 3D print the CV boot used in this case study.

Save time and money

A professional desktop 3D printer can represent real cost savings for an automotive business. Most CV boots cost between $10 to $25 — and that does not include the time and gas it might take to find and pick up the part. More commonly, however, these parts are not usually readily available and need to be ordered. That can mean days, even weeks, before you receive the part — not to mention the additional price you may have to pay for shipping and handling.

The total cost of materials for our 3D-printed CV boot was only $6.89. Plus, the part took only seven hours to print — a simple process that runs in the background while you perform other tasks.

Optimize your inventory and supply chain

While it is a fairly easy and relatively inexpensive repair, one of the problems with replacing a CV boot is that there are so many different types that it is virtually impossible to keep them all in stock. Rather than carrying excess inventory that you do not even know whether or not you will actually use, you instead can build a library of files for different parts that can be customized and 3D printed as necessary. When you have a reliable desktop 3D printer designed for professional use, you can print only the part you need, when you need it.

Customization

When it comes to 3D printing automotive parts, the level of customization that you can make to a part is really only limited by your imagination — and your 3D modeling skills. And even if you are not a skilled CAD designer, simple customization is still possible through the use of simple-to-use software. For example, if the CV boot discussed in this case study is too large or too small, you can scale it up or down using APEX 3D-Printing Software.

If you wish to make simple customizations to a part, you also can use free 3D design software like Tinkercad or 123D Design to make changes to the shape of the part so that it will be perfectly designed for your particular application.

Have questions about 3D printing automotive parts? Give Airwolf 3D a call at (949)478-2933 or email us at info@airwolf3d.com.

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