Honda: Paving the Way with Additive Manufacturing
Honda is charting a new path with customized 3D printed auto parts. Could this lead to something bigger in the future?
Additive Manufacturing in the Auto Industry
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is changing the automotive industry as we know it. As competition in the auto industry grows fiercer, with 88 million autos being sold worldwide in 2016 , car manufacturers are constantly trying to improve processes by testing new technology to gain an edge. Additive manufacturing is leading these product development enhancements by allowing companies to create cars that are lighter, more attractive, and safer, all while having shorter lead times.
Honda: 3D Printing from Prototyping Parts to Consumer DIY Printing
If you walk on the plant floor of most car manufactures today you should not be surprised to see multiple 3D printers hard at work prototyping and testing parts, creating a part designed at another facility, and producing parts that are no longer standard production. Honda is not only deeply integrated with these uses of additive manufacturing on the production line, but they are also beginning to take it a step further with their Tokyo based subsidiary, Honda Access.
How would you feel if your brand-new Honda CR-V came with an interior unlike anyone else’s because it was made specially for you? This is exactly what Honda is beginning to do for limited edition vehicles, particularly in China where Honda is a status symbol . By using 3D printing to customize car parts, Honda is opening up new possibilities for consumers who want to feel a special connection to their car or want their car to stand out from the crowd. This use of additive manufacturing is significantly reducing the lead times to get custom automobiles in the hands of its consumers, while enhancing their satisfaction with the product by delivering exactly what they want in a car.
With predictions that 3D printing in the automotive industry will reach $1.1 billion annually by 2019 , Honda is really beginning to push into new territories to be a part of this revolution. A recent initiative, “Honda 3D Design Archives,” released external designs of past concept models so that individuals who own a 3D printer can print their own version of Honda’s concept designs . While you cannot create a running car with this, it is allowing for consumer experimentation and engagement with the brand. One can imagine a world where this leads to new designs as more and more engineers and designers have the ability to see original designs, alter them to their likings, and print a shell of a vehicle for display or customization.
The Future Potential of Additive Manufacturing
Honda has taken great strides to put themselves at the forefront of this growing technology. What could be next for Honda?
I imagine a day where I never have to wait more than a few minutes for a car repair. PwC also believes in this:
“…customers or suppliers order spare parts from a manufacturer’s web page. Within hours, nearby 3-D service bureaus have downloaded the files, printed the parts, and sped them to the customer. Or the customer prints parts on its own equipment, eliminating shipping costs, tariffs, and delays.” 
I challenge Honda to take this on. As more and more retailers, such as UPS, make 3D printers available to consumers and more consumers begin to buy their own, Honda should be making parts available to consumers to print and repair their cars themselves. This improves quality of life for a customer that is no longer at the dealer’s whim to get a repair done and will not be a money loser for Honda as they will no longer need to be performing simple repairs. Honda should implement this with an online system to diagnose a problem with a car or give you the option to come in for a quick inspection. Then a user can order the design of a part online for a fee to print on their own time.
This large step towards mass acceptance and mass use of additive manufacturing would push Honda to the forefront of the industry and allow them to truly make the lives of their consumers more flexible.
While the use of additive manufacturing is not yet for mass production, it will be at that point before we know it. As we think towards the future, would you be open to printing your own car parts or daily use items? Do you feel safe driving in a car made up of 3D printed parts? (757 words)
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Student comments on Honda: Paving the Way with Additive Manufacturing
I had no idea that certain car parts are 3D printed. Very interesting! As we think into the future about how people are going to own or not own cars, I think customization can be to Honda’s advantage. Assuming that autonomous ride-sharing vehicles take up a large portion of the transportation space away from individually owned cars, my guess is that customers who still own vehicles will want ones that are customized, otherwise they wouldn’t want a car at all.
I think using 3D printing to customize cars will enable people to feel a stronger connection with their cars. However, as Caroline Schubach mentioned, as we shift towards autonomous ride-sharing vehicles, people’s connections to their cars will likely be less strong. Thus, I think 3D printing customized car parts will likely stay in the niche market of more expensive cars (& for people who really care about cars) especially because the customer has to spend more time thinking about exactly what they want their car to look like.
Regarding the question on would I feel comfortable with printing my own car part, I think I would feel comfortable with printing the car part. However, there is still the matter of installing it and the frequency that I would use 3D printing.
This is a good article, very informative!
I believe the 3D printing still has not reach its full capabilities in order to be adopted by the mass.
I don’t believe I will be using 3D printing in the near future given that to my knowledge (which is limited on the topic), the ability to print different items depends on key factors: availability of raw material and pricing of these material, the know-how in order to manipulate the printer or the existence of templates that can be leveraged, etc. But I believe if we were to overcome these barriers, I think it is a very useful tool. Personally, I believe I would use it mainly for small objects because the bigger the object, the more sophisticated the printer has to be (thus more expensive), and the less likely that the template will be easy to get (e.g. expensive, patented). In addition, I do not feel that I would be comfortable using it for items that could potentially harm me or anyone around me. For example, I would not feel comfortable printing tires (given that the malfunction of these items could potentially lead to an accident), butI wouldn’t mind printing cup holders or in-car mirrors.
It would be exciting to design and then print my own customized car, all while I stay at home. However, the ease of access to lay your hands on customized cars appears to go against Honda’s role as a status symbol (at least in China). A brand becomes valuable and highly sought after if its products are scarce. If it becomes widely available to the mass, the brand may become devalued and will no longer be special.
Another potential challenge is that not all car buyers are avid car fans. While it is tempting to improve buyers’ experience by removing the dealer (i.e. removing the “middleman”), the job of educating buyers about the brand and each model will now fall on Honda. The costs saved by additive manufacturing will be somewhat offset by the new costs of educating customers.
Finally, is there any risk of patent infringement if buyers can access the detailed schematics of the cars? Honda will need to develop a robust cybersecurity system to make sure buyers cannot simply download and lay claim to the design of the cars. Furthermore, with customization, at what point does the car become yours and not Honda’s? And how will Honda protect its brand image if buyers can do anything they want to the design of the car?