What do you need from your set of wheels? Is it a functional workhorse, or does it have to reflect your personality? More and more, car owners’ accessories and style choices set their vehicles apart. An entire industry exists to support automobile customization, and Stratasys 3D printing is playing an increasing role in developing and prototyping the official accessories for one of the world’s most well-known brands.
Honda Access Company Ltd. creates and sells custom add-on parts for Honda vehicles worldwide from its headquarters in Saitama Prefecture, Japan. Each vehicle model has up to 300 accessories that can be added to match the customer’s desires and practical demands per region. “We have to take into account a range of considerations, such as regional driver preferences and climate and road surface conditions when designing the accessories, offering distinct specifications according to a country’s needs and demand,” explained Hiroshi Takemori, a senior researcher from Honda Access’ product planning department.
What gets customized? Wheels, mirrors, knobs, parts of the trunk and more. Customers choose these add-ons in order to make their cars reflect their wants and personalities. Takemori gave the example of the popular CR-V sports utility vehicle: “In the United States, the vehicle is marketed to parents who use the vehicle to pick up and drop off their children, but in China it is positioned as the ultimate SUV and a status symbol. Since the vehicle body is built to the same standards worldwide, we use the accessories to give the car a little regional flavor.”
Designers at Honda Access have been using 3D printing as part of their product development since 2006; the internal demand eventually led the company to purchase an Objet Eden500V for daily use. 3D printing aids at several critical points in the design process, including prototyping and testing for fit and function. The most popular Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing materials used in-house at Honda Access are from the Vero line of rigid opaque materials, which are painted with a clear coat for a close to final product finish.
Prototyping with 3D printing allows the designers to make modifications to the product designs on the fly. Keeping the entire process in-house has allowed the Honda Access team to tighten their design schedule and eliminate delays due to outsourcing or relying on slower CNC milling methods.
Takemori elaborated on the advantages of using 3D printing as part of the product design cycle: “3D printers allow us to synchronize the development schedule with that of the vehicle itself and create the accessory parts simultaneously, improving both the quality and speed of the prototype process. The technology has become indispensable for our business.”