Large-Scale Hybrid Parts in Automotive

The Automotive industry continues its ongoing race to find ways to accelerate the process of designing and developing new and better vehicles. If we examine a modern car design closely, we see that it contains around 30,000 components, of different sizes and materials, manufactured using a range of techniques. Introducing 3D printing into the process of designing a machine with this number and diversity of parts can make that process of moving from new concept to marketable product much more efficient.

When it comes to the functional testing of large automotive components, any vehicle manufacturer will be happy to have the capacity to produce prototypes with realistic mechanical properties at low cost, and with few limitations on design. The combination of large-scale 3D printing with metal plating is a powerful production solution which can deliver automotive firms this prototyping capacity.

Software render of a complex exhaust manifold design
Rendering of a complex exhaust manifold design

The Manifold

The exhaust manifold plays a leading role in a car or larger vehicle’s exhaust system.
It connects to each exhaust port on the engine's cylinder head and funnels the hot exhaust down to a single exhaust pipe. Manifolds are manufactured by metal casting and have to withstand a high-temperature environment around the engine. Finding a fast, cost-effective way to perform basic fit-form-functional manifold testing can help reduce costs and shorten the product development process.

The Hybrid Concept

As part of the mutual research BigRep and Polymertal are conducting into possible applications for large-scale 3D printing and metal plating, a large manifold was printed to which was then added a thin layer of nickel in a metal plating process. The goal was to significantly improve the mechanical properties of the prototype, bringing them closer to those of a finished, cast metal part.

Exhaust manifold: software render, 3D-printed polymer, and finished nickel-plated part
Render, polymer 3D printed, and metal-plated versions of a simple exhaust manifold

Printing data

  • Printed on the BigRep STUDIO
  • Material - PLA/PRO-HT
  • Printing Time - 15 h
  • Layer thickness - 0.3 mm
  • Nozzle - 0.6 mm
  • Material weight - 450 g
  • Material cost - under 20 Euros

Plating Data

  • Technique - Direct Metalization plating
  • Material - Nickel
  • Plating thickness - 20 microns
Inlet and outlet views of an exhaust manifold
This exhaust manifold has four entry points and two outlets

Benefits of Plating

  • Increased heat deflection temperature
  • Increased chemical resistance
  • Increased part strength

The Result

The new manifold was manufactured quickly and at very low cost. The BigRep STUDIO delivered a precision-print of the design, the plating process improved the part’s mechanical properties making it suitable for real functional testing. The fast process and quality of the part suggest this method can be used for improved and accelerated testing of new automotive component designs. The result is increased confidence that 3D printing, and hybrid parts in particular, can give automotive firms who adopt the technology a lead over their competitors in bringing innovative vehicle designs to market.


With over 22 years in the printing industry, Gil Lavi is a Sr. 3D-Printing Specialist with vast experience in implementing diverse 3D-printing technologies in design and manufacturing processes.

Connect with Gil on Linkedin HERE.

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