IThe Shanghai-based Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center (PATAC), a joint venture between General Motors and SAIC Motor, wants to take a leadership role in developing 3D-printed parts for intake manifold development.
One of the first parts developed is an auto air intake manifold connector printed with polyamide 6 that is used for design and function testing. The connector’s surface can be treated post-printing to meet testing requirements.
PATAC also views 3D-printed parts as an economic method for low-volume production. Tooling costs are considered too high for parts in the 10,000 area. 3D printing also allows more intricate designs than are possible with injection molding.
The research operation, which now employs more than 3,000, is using a new polyamide 6 powder developed by BASF, which has been investing to get access to the 3D printing market. According to BASF, the new powder provides higher strength and heat-distortion stability than the polyamide 12 used in 3D printing. BASF also says that its PA6 powder not sintered in the production process can generally be reused. Daimler and Ford are also using the new PA powder in development programs.
According to PATAC, the new PA6’s superior mechanical properties and thermal stability enable the intake manifold connector to operate under the normal working conditions of the engine. BASF played a lead role in developing polyamide 6 for injection molded intake manifolds in the 1990s.
Another key player in the 3D printing innovations at PATAC is Farsoon Technologies, which was founded in 2009 in Hunan, China, by Xu Xiaoshu, who helped develop selective laser sintering technology at DTM in the 1990s. Farsoon advocates an open source approach and was the only machine builder willing to work with BASF to commercialize PA 6 powder. Other machine builders derive significant revenues by requiring use of their proprietary materials.