On April 25, 2020, Antarctic bears learned from foreign media that a strange application of 3D printing was recently discovered in the “Tesla Model Y Dismantling” video released by a foreign content creator Munro Live. When inspecting a large injection molded part on the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) bellows of the car, engineer Sandy Munro found a 3D printed circular part. Due to the obvious layer-by-layer stacking structure of this part, the part was printed in 3D according to his technical intuition. Sandy attributed the use of the 3D printed part to a manufacturing failure on the Model Y production line, where the part manufactured by FDM technology is used for rapid repair.
Automakers often have a process of “process verification” before starting mass production of models, which means that all individual parts have to be produced and assembled to ensure their feasibility. The initial trial run also provided an opportunity to train workers on the production line. If there is any problem, the manufacturer has the opportunity to remedy and fine-tune the process before starting production.
Tesla probably ignored a defect in Model Y’s HVAC system and began production of the car before repair. When Elon Musk’s engineers finally discovered the problem, it was probably too late. Hundreds of HVAC units had been produced and ready for assembly. At that time, if only the missing parts of the vehicle were printed out in 3D, it would be easier than organizing a new production line to produce bellows.
It is also possible that Tesla did find this defect in the verification stage and made the choice to continue production anyway, instead of temporarily repairing the bellows with 3D printing while producing a new mold. In this way, the company can maintain its original plan and deliver the first batch of Model Y without any setbacks, which was already done as early as early as March 2020. So far, Tesla officials have not made any comment on the part of 3D printing.
This is certainly not the first time an automobile manufacturer has used 3D printing technology to produce parts for its vehicles. Earlier this year, Porsche, famous for its high-performance sports car, announced the development of a new 3D printing personalized seat. The “body-shaped full barrel seat” will initially be limited to 40 prototype vehicles and will be compatible with Porsche 911 and 718 models.
Around the same time, APWORKS announced that it had printed a titanium alloy part for the latest bugatti Chiron model in 3D. This 3D printed tailpipe is lighter and more resistant to high temperature than the previous generation.