Q&A: 3-D Printing Applied to Plastic Repair

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Aug. 20, 2019—Swinburne University of Technology and Tradiebot Industries have partnered to bring 3D printing and augmented reality (AR) to the collision repair industry.

The collaboration sees the application of a new in-house formulated polypropylene composite material, developed by Swinburne materials scientists, for the manufacture of replacement plastic bumper bar taps and headlight lugs. 

The project began in 2018 and by the end of the year the team will deliver a fully working demonstrator that can do repairs with verified quality. 

FenderBender dived into the impact this project could have on the collision repair industry with the lead of the project, Dr. Mats Isaksson.

"While our immediate goal is to develop a commercially useful repair technology for headlights, the developed solution can be extended to any type of plastic repair," Isaksson says. "A future extension might be a fully automatic repair unit."

The team has developed a polypropylene-like material, spooled it, used it for 3-D printing and evaluated its performance. 

Will this method help eliminate waste?

After a collision, often only minor parts of a headlight are damaged. Most commonly, the parts are lugs and brackets attaching the headlight to the car body. If the broken pieces are available, small damages are repaired using some ad hoc method like utilizing two part bonding agents or plastic fuse welding with a heat gun but typically the headlight is thrown away and goes to a landfill.

General manual repair would require manufacture of a new lug, a skilled technician, and repeatable joining procedure where the outcome has been extensively verified for strength.

A new headlight can cost between $200 and $10,000 for a luxury car. Even if only a percentage of damaged headlights can be repaired it will make a major reduction of plastics going to the landfill. We are currently only targeting a percentage of headlights where the damages are minor, such as one to three damaged lugs and brackets.

Is this process faster and cheaper than ordering replacement parts?

This will definitely be significantly faster and cheaper than ordering replacement parts. A fully automated repair could be performed in less than an hour at only a minor material cost.

Have you had any pushback at all?

Insurance companies have been very supportive of this project as it will significantly reduce the cost of a repair. Tradiebot's goal is getting the OEMs involved in this repair approach and talks with several OEMs are ongoing.

This is a great opportunity for OEMs to look at the future of additive manufacturing in repairs and play a role in protecting the environment  from these waste parts where possible. As far as I know, there is not a set price on what these lugs could cost, so OEMs could potentially even make more profit providing an additive repair service like this instead of manufacturing, storing, transporting and packaging a new part.

Are 3-D printed parts as strong as the original?

They can be. It depends on the material and the way the repair is done. A major part of the current project has been targeting the development of our own 3-D printable polypropylene-like material that is designed for optimal bonding to the headlight surface while achieving the same strength as the original parts.






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