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Laser sintering puts Jaguar in prototyping's fast lane.

Jaguar Cars is making increasing use of the laser-sintering technology at its Whitley Engineering Centre. The manufacturer of luxury cars thus speeds up the development of new vehicles. Laser sintering builds plastic parts directly from CAD models, eliminating the expense of producing mold tools. The systems from EOS Ltd, Warwick, Great Britain, create prototype trim, engine parts, and production aids from polyamide powder. The technology fuses the powder layer by layer into their respective shapes.

The resulting components--such as the air intake manifold, door inners, fascia substrate, interior air vents, and exterior light housings--are robust enough to be used on test vehicles running around the track. They allow for more data to be collected early on in the development process. Errors can therefore be avoided before they cause high costs.

Take the V8 air-intake manifold prototype for a forthcoming Jaguar car, for example. In the past, hundreds of thousands of pounds--that is, 100,000 [pounds sterling] = $175,000--would have been invested in hard tooling for its manufacture. Following every design change, it would have cost thousands of pounds to alter the tool, a process would take several weeks each time. If the changes were substantial, a completely new tool might be needed. With laser sintering, the production of tools becomes obsolete. As a consequence, Jaguar saves time and costs.

The machines from EOS produced two design iterations of the manifold--17 were subsequently built in polyamide for less than a thousand pounds each (less than $1,700). The lead time was one-and-a-half days only manifold--halving the time for development from one year to six months. Jaguar enjoyed an enormous financial saving alone for this component.

The bumper section of XJ saloon was also produced with laser sintering. The component was built in two pieces. Subsequently, it helped to visualize the assembly of key parts such as the exhaust pipe and tow-eye fixing. The aesthetics could be evaluated before progressing to hard tooling.

The systems currently operate 24/7 at the Whitley Product Development Centre. Jaguar's experience has been that the throughput of laser-sintered parts exceeds that of other rapid technologies. The entire build volume of a laser-sintering machine can be filled with parts. Other processes only allow for the fitting of components within the area of the build platform. The EOSINT P380 systems make it easy to incorporate dozens of parts in each sintering cycle.

An interesting component that is regularly added around other parts is not a prototype at all, but a complex plastic assembly aid. It assists operators working on the recently revealed XK coupe and convertible to position the window lift mechanisms during build. The manufacturing plant required a stock of 3,000 of these parts. Once fitted, the assembly aid remains on the vehicle throughout the build process. By August 2005, around half of the parts required had been produced as fill-in jobs, without the need to invest in expensive plastic injection mold tooling.

As to the future, Jaguar expects to see rapid prototyping quickly develop into rapid manufacturing processes, initially capable of satisfying niche requirements. In the more distant future it is possible that today's processes hold the key to the next generation of volume production technologies. Especially laser-sintering has a high potential--the technology helps companies such as Jaguar to eliminate design constraints, tooling and inventory overheads. EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems,
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Title Annotation:automotive production
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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