Aptiv is a global technology company that develops safer, greener, and more connected solutions to enable the future of mobility. They were responsible for the design and production of a trailer-tow connector cap for Ford Super Duty trucks to protect the electrical connectors from harsh environmental exposure.
Aptiv needed to push the boundaries of what’s possible in lower-volume, critical part production. The task was to develop a trailer-tow connector cap that would meet Ford’s expectations for the best possible cost and speedy, flexible production.
The trailer-tow connector cap needed to meet the automotive industry’s standard engineering and quality requirements — specifically, USCAR-2 validation and ISO 9000 certification — to guarantee the protection of the electrical connector against external elements and maintain a seal at 105 degrees celsius.
To make this possible, Aptiv worked closely with Carbon, a leader in digital manufacturing technology and additive materials development, and Fast Radius, a manufacturing partner with expertise in repeatable, reliable additive production. The collaborative effort led to the serial production of the trailer-tow connector cap for the Ford Super Duty trucks using Carbon Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS™) technology. Additionally, Aptiv’s additive manufacturing strategy provided a tool-free approach, speeding time-to-market by 16 weeks compared to traditional molding solutions.
“We were able to reduce cycle time by 50 percent, pass every test, and perform the same PPAP as we would had it been an injection molded design.”
Jerry RhinehartAdditive Manufacturing Technology Manager, Aptiv
MAKING IT POSSIBLE
TRUSTED MATERIALS FOR AUTOMOTIVE APPLICATIONS
This project was Aptiv’s first automotive production application to leverage additive polymer technology. The Carbon team worked closely with Aptiv to choose the right material to meet the product’s USCAR and level 3 sealing requirements. After careful evaluation, Carbon EPX 82 was chosen as the ideal material to produce the trailer-tow connector cap because of its temperature resistance, durability, and strength.
INDUSTRIAL-GRADE DIGITAL MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGY
Carbon DLS technology met Aptiv’s expectations for speedy, reliable, and scalable production. With such rigorous industry requirements, Carbon DLS was the best method for the project based on the estimated production for scale. Once the technology and materials were locked, Aptiv turned its focus to the connector cap’s design, collaborating with Fast Radius and Carbon engineers to optimize the design for manufacturing.
PRODUCTION OPTIMIZATION AND EXPERTISE
Printing thousands of parts repeatedly and reliably at scale with additive manufacturing can be a challenge. To ensure production reliability, Fast Radius leveraged their knowledge of and experience with Carbon’s technology, also drawing on insights gained from their proprietary digital thread software to design a build file that optimally positioned the parts on the build plate. This would account for subtle variances in temperature and light variation.
QUALITY MANAGEMENT SYSTEM FOR ADDITIVE PRODUCTION
After an extensive on-site audit process, Fast Radius became the first serial-approved external additive manufacturing supplier for Aptiv in the automotive industry. Fast Radius relied on its additive manufacturing expertise and software-backed digital thread capabilities to conduct and pass a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP). For production with Carbon DLS technology, Fast Radius instituted part-specific standard operating procedures across each step of the process and developed a rigorous control plan to ensure ongoing quality.
The combination of Carbon’s leading digital manufacturing technology and trusted materials, along with Fast Radius’s additive manufacturing expertise and infrastructure, made it possible for Aptiv to achieve their innovative solution. Ultimately, Ford confirmed that Aptiv and the broader team executed a successful launch of this product.
Today, the digital files for this product are stored in the Fast Radius Virtual Warehouse™️ and ordered on-demand and printed as needed. Together with Fast Radius and Carbon, Aptiv used the benefits of digital manufacturing to reduce tooling expenses, get to market faster, and provide a long-term, streamlined solution to making Ford’s trailer-tow connector cap with an additive technology.