Technology enables automotive manufacturers to design new welding shanks

WATERTOWN, Mass.—The ability to 3D print copper parts on demand could drive new manufacturing and supply chain efficiencies for customers by reducing lead times, part costs, and the need for costly inventory. According to Markforged, this ability is within reach of automotive and electronics manufacturers, who can now 3D print pure copper on the company’s Metal X system. The new capability provides a fast, cost-effective way to produce geometrically complex copper with high electrical and thermal conductivity, Markforged said in a company release.

“Copper powers our world. It’s everywhere. It builds our cars, enables phones, and keeps electrical equipment running,” said Greg Mark, Markforged CEO and founder. “Copper has traditionally been an expensive and challenging material to machine and incompatible for 3D printing in a pure form with other techniques. Now, we’ve made it easier and cheaper to produce. Markforged 3D printed Copper will be a game-changer for the automotive and electronics industries, and it will open the door to innovation across many more.”

Copper is the latest metal to be qualified for use on the Metal X, which can also print aerospace superalloys like Inconel 625, 17-4 PH Stainless Steel, H13 Tool Steel, D2 Tool Steel, and A2 Tool Steel. The Metal X delivers functional prototypes, tooling and fixtures, and end-use production parts to help customers reduce manufacturing costs and improve supply chain efficiency, the company said.

“Every automotive factory in the world uses copper for welding,” Greg Mark said. “Complex production parts are required to weld tight spots of the car body. They cost thousands of dollars to make and can have months-long lead times. But Markforged is changing all of that by enabling manufacturers to produce parts in-house so they get them faster and for significantly lower costs. With our 3D printed parts, automotive manufacturers can print the parts they need on demand, instead of holding significant inventory, and will be able to design new kinds of welding shanks that were never before possible.”

According to Markforged, hundreds of Markforged 3D printers are deployed at nine of the 10 highest-valued auto manufacturers in the world. The company partnered with one of these customers — a well-known automotive manufacturer — to conduct in-depth weld testing using copper. After thousands of welds, the testing showed the same resistance as traditional manufactured spot welding shanks, and the manufacturer “has been thrilled by the results,” Markforged said in the release. By using Markforged additive manufacturing, the automotive manufacturer has reported a 12-fold reduction in part lead times and six-fold reduction in part costs. It now plans to extend the use of the 3D printing parts to the production line.

“I’ve always been impressed with the technology behind the Markforged Metal X system, and our experience with 3D printed copper has been incredible – especially when looking at its conductivity and structural stability,” noted the maintenance manager at the global automotive manufacturer. “And now that we’ve successfully evaluated weld testing, we plan on expanding our metal 3D printing capacity for this and other metal components. 3D printing copper with Markforged is faster and more cost effective than purchasing complex machined components, and we expect it to help us mitigate downtime exposure and reduce inventory costs by $200,000 a year using only one Metal X system.”

Benefits of 3D printing copper on the Metal X system include high thermal conductivity to greater than 350 W/mK thermal, and electrical conductivity of 84 percent IACS. The printer consistently creates complex, tight tolerance parts, Markforged said.

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