Nissan accelerates assembly line with 3D printing solution

Having successfully integrated 3D printing into its production process, automotive giant Nissan now has the proven capability to expand its use of the technology in the UK.

The car manufacturer has been using 3D FFF (fused filament fabrication) technology. This has come from BCN3D – a world leading developer and manufacturer of integrated 3D desktop solutions. This is to create tools, jigs and fixtures for its manufacturing line in Barcelona, Spain and the time and cost savings have been so impressive that it could soon roll it out to more manufacturing sites.

It has created 700 parts so far, with some costing as little as 3.45€ (£2.97) to manufacture. Previously Nissan outsourced all its prototypes and jigs to mechanical suppliers who used traditional manufacturing methods, such as CNC and drilling. Although the quality of the finished product was good, the lead times were long and inflexible and the costs were high.


Inside the Nissan assembly line

Even simple tools could cost in the region of 400€ (£344) for machining. By printing some of these parts in-house with 3D printers, Nissan has cut the time of designing, refining and producing parts from one week to just one day and slashed costs by 95%.

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is becoming more popular in the automotive sector, helping manufacturers to shorten development cycles and get vehicles into production more quickly. 3D printing also helps to significantly reduce component production times without compromising on their quality.

Meeting production needs

Nissan’s additive manufacturing laboratory is equipped with a farm of four BCN3D printers, which offer proven reliability and can run 24/7 to meet Nissan’s intense production schedule. The printers incorporate an Independent Dual Extrusion (IDEX) system, which means that Nissan can print two identical components at the same time, in turn, doubling productivity.

Nissan is also using the recently launched BCN3D Smart Cabinet – a ground-breaking new solution that has been developed to preserve filament printability, extend its shelf life, reduce aesthetic defects and avoid costly reprints.

Using CAD applications, including Autodesk Inventor and Siemens NX, the Nissan team has adapted its entire design process to integrate 3D printing and has found it to be easier than a mechanical one.

Carlos Rellán Martínez, manager of maintenance & engineering facilities at Nissan, says: “The performance achieved in terms of reliability has been excellent. Our printer runs nearly 24 hours a day and every year we are printing around 100 different jigs and tools for specific use in our processes.

“Outsourcing tools to a mechanical supplier was 20 times more expensive than 3D printing the same parts, while the wait for tools went from a week down to one day. By introducing 3D printing, we have increased added value and generated low costs, without high delivery times. We have paid off the investment in the printers very quickly.”

Different products

The Nissan team has used BCN printers to produce a multitude of products, including a tool to fix a windshield centring gauge, a lower drill positioning tool and a jig to position and cure the model name on the vehicle. The fixing tool was made of TPU, cost 8€ (£6.89) and took a total of 14 hours to print. The positioning tool was made of ABS, took 15 hours to print and cost 21.50€. (£18.51) The jig was created from ABS, took 12 hours to print and cost just 3.45€. (£2.97)

Eric Pallarés, chief technical officer at BCN3D, adds: “The automotive industry is probably the best example of scaling up a complex product with the demands of meeting highest quality standards. It is fascinating to see how the assembly process of a car – where many individual parts are put together in an assembly line – relies on FFF printed parts at virtually every stage.”


Click here for a digital walkthrough of the Nissan assembly line. 

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Images courtesy of Nissan