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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Printing the Automotive Industry of the Future – 3D Style!

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3D printing has been around for almost three decades but it is only recently that OEMs have begun to realize the commercial benefits of this phenomena beyond just prototyping. It has significantly altered the ways OEMs approach model designing, development, and manufacturing. It is helping car manufacturers across the globe shorten their product development phase, reduce prototype costs, and test new ways of improving efficiency.

Using 3D printing for prototyping has become much of a standard in the industry today. The 3D printing automotive industry, which is estimated at a little less than US$500 million in 2015, is expected to more than triple by 2020.

With 3D printing, OEMs are able to use CAD software to design parts and then print a prototype themselves, saving them both time and money.

Previously, OEMs outsourced the process of prototyping to machine shops, which not only resulted in additional costs but also took weeks to produce a part. Moreover, if the produced part needed modification (which in most cases it did), then the modified blueprint was sent to the machine shop again for production, resulting in a repeat of the entire process.

Due to lower costs and turnaround time, this technology has given OEMs the flexibility to use a fleet of printers to try out multiple designs in a go, rather than being limited to one design and then restarting with another in case the first result did not meet expectations. This has largely helped OEMs boost quality levels as they do not waste too much time applying modifications to their designs and then testing them.

Who Is Using 3D and What For?

GM uses 3D printing technologies of various kinds, such as selective laser sintering (SLS) and stereolithography (SLA), across its design, engineering, and manufacturing processes and rapid prototypes about 20,000 parts. Chrysler uses 3D printing for prototyping a wide variety of side-view mirror designs and then selecting the one that looks and performs the best. Ford, on the other hand, has been one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing technology. It runs five 3D prototyping centres, of which three are in the US and two are in Europe. The company churns out about 20,000 prototyped parts per annum from just one of these centres (Michigan, USA).

However, few OEMs such as Mitsubishi (who bought its first 3D printer in 2013), have been late adopters of the technology.

While 3D printers continue to be widely used for rapid prototyping across the industry, several large automobile manufacturers have advanced into the next stages of 3D printing technology adoption. Although still in nascent/experimental stage, these OEMs have applied 3D printing to produce hand tools, fixtures and jigs to enhance production efficiency at floor level. Ford, which is definitely one of the most advanced users of 3D printing, uses this technology to produce calibration tools.

The Case of BMW and Stratasys
BMW also uses 3D printing’s FDM technology to build hand-tools for automobile assembly and testing. In addition to the financial advantages, FDM process helps the company to make ergonomically designed assembly tools that perform better than traditionally made tools.

For one such tool, BMW worked with 3D printing company, Stratasys, to reduce the weight of the device by about 72%, thereby enhancing its ease of use considerably. Apart from improving the handling abilities of tools, the technology has also helped enhance functionality. The company has managed to print parts with complex shapes that allow workers to reach difficult areas specific to BMW-produced vehicles. In one such instance, the company created a tool using 3D printing for attaching bumper supports, which features a convoluted tube that bends around obstructions and places fixturing magnets exactly where needed.

Leaders in the use of 3D printing, such as Ford, also apply the technology to prototype parts that are of such strength that they are installed on running test vehicles. The company uses engine parts, such as intake manifolds, from 3D printing white silica powder, to install it in its running test vehicles. With the use of 3D printed prototypes of components such as cylinder heads and intake cylinders in test vehicles, Ford is successful in avoiding the requirement of investment castings and tooling, and in turn saving significant amount of time and dollars.

Another advancement in 3D printing encompasses the use of new and innovative materials. While most companies use silica powder, resin, and sand, few OEMs are innovating with forming test parts out of clear plastics. This allows them to validate designs as the team can visually see what is happening inside the part. Chrysler uses transparent plastic in 3D prototyping their differential/transfer case. By inserting oil inside it, they can ensure if the gear is staying well-lubricated under the prototyped design/model.

The use of metal as printing material is an innovation that though is still in its nascent stage is being used by OEMs such as BMW to 3D print (using SLM technology) a metal water wheel pump for its DTM racing car. Auto-parts manufacturer, Johnsons Controls Automotive Seating, also uses 3D printers to print metal parts that have complex shapes and are difficult to produce using traditional welding.

Various Stages in 3D Printing Adoption by OEMs

3D Printing Illustration

With these new applications taking the industry by storm, several OEM manufacturers are increasingly investing in and exploring the uses of additive manufacturing. While few companies have been slow in adopting to 3D manufacturing initially, it is expected that they will soon come up to speed with the advances in the use of this technology, given the holistic benefits offered by it.

Strati is born in 44 Hours…

Local Motors, and Arizona-based company has created the world’s first 3D printed car, Strati, which it plans to launch in 2016 (considering it passes the crash test and other requisite tests).

Strati’s body and chassis are completely created from 3D printing, however, components such as wheels and suspension are sourced from Renault. The battery-operated car is expected to cost in the range of US$18,000-30,000 and have a top speed of 50mph.

…Shuya to follow!

Taking cue from Local Motors, China’s automobile manufacture, Sanya Si Hai, has unveiled its own 3D printed vehicle called Shuya. While Shuya takes relatively longer (5 days) to print and has a top speed of only 25mph, it costs only US$1,770.

The Biggest Challenge – Seeing Beyond the Prototypes

One of the biggest drawbacks of 3D printing is that in an industry driven by volumes, its current speed cannot match the production volume requirements, thus inhibiting the use of this technology for direct part manufacturing. This in a large way restricts the use of 3D printing for mass production. While there is ongoing research on high-speed additive manufacturing, it still remains a concept.

Even if large automobile components are to be produced using this technology, they still need to be attached together through welding or other techniques. This lowers the benefits accrued from 3D printing the parts in the first place. This aspect of 3D printing is also being researched upon, and unlike high-speed additive manufacturing, 3D printing companies have made good ground in building large 3D printers that do not restrict the size of the component produced.

Another indirect but real challenge to the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing is high levels of intellectual property theft. Since additive manufacturing products can only be patented (and not copyrighted), there is much ambiguity regarding what all falls under patent protection. Till the time there are no clear guidelines regarding intellectual property and 3D printing, OEMs will remain wary regarding the extent to which they should use this technology.

The biggest challenge, however, is the mindset of OEMs which continue to look at 3D printing as primarily a prototyping tool.

On Reflection

The automotive industry must take cue from the aerospace and defence industry, which has heavily invested (along with additive manufacturing companies) in developing new materials and technology in 3D printing to meet their evolving requirements. Instead of sitting and waiting for 3D printer manufacturers to bring about new uses of 3D printing for the automobile industry, OEMs should proactively look for innovating with the technology themselves.

Companies such as Ford and BMW, which are exploring other uses of this versatile technology have the opportunity to not only save costs, but also improve overall performance. And this is what may just provide these OEMs the competitive edge they are looking for. The question is who else is willing the take the big leap of faith.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

As Myanmar Works Towards Stability, Communal Violence Holds The Nation Back.

In mid-2012, we published a report on Myanmar, looking into its potential as a new emerging market with considerable investment and trade opportunities for foreign investors (see: Myanmar – The Next Big Emerging Market Story?). Almost a year later, we are returning to Myanmar, to check and evaluate whether the political, social, and economic changes envisioned and proposed by the quasi-civilian government have really translated into actions to push the country forward on the path to becoming the next big emerging market story.

Being plagued by uninspiring and inefficient governance for more than six decades, Myanmar for long has been proclaimed as Asia’s black sheep. The Chinese named it ‘the beggar with a golden bowl’, asking for aid despite its rich natural and human resources. However, having embarked on a momentous yet challenging political revolution, the nation is said to be on its way to open a new chapter in the Asian development story.

Contrary to what was believed to be just hollow promises and sham, the reforms initiated by the Thein Sein government have gathered much steam in quite a few cases. Bold moves over the last year have also immensely helped the country in gaining goodwill internationally. We are looking at some of the game-changing reforms enacted over the past present year in Myanmar.

Media Censorship

In August 2012, the government put in actions their proposed end to media censorship. As per the new system, journalists are no more required to submit their reports to state censors prior to publication. To further strengthen the power of media, in April 2013, the government abolished the ban on privately run daily newspapers – ban remaining in force for over 50 years.

Foreign Investment Law

In January 2013, the Thein Sein government passed a foreign investment law that was initially drafted in March 2012. The law allows foreign companies to own up to 80% of ventures across several industries (apart from activities mentioned on the restricted list –including small and medium size mining projects, importing disposed products from other countries for use in manufacturing, and printing and broadcasting activities). This acts as an important milestone in opening up the Burmese economy to heaps of foreign investment.

Opening Up Of Telecom Sector

Myanmar, one of the least connected countries in the world, has embarked on the deregulation of its much neglected telecom sector by initiating the sale of 350,000 SIM cards on a public lottery basis. It plans to offer additional batches on a monthly basis. As a more tangible effort to revolutionize the sector, the government is auctioning two new 15-year telecom network licenses to international companies. These companies are to be announced in June 2013 from a list 12 pre-qualified applicants, namely, Axiata Group, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile along with Vodafone, Digicel Group, France Telecom/Orange, Japan’s KDDI Corp along with Sumitomo Group, Millicom International Cellular, MTN Dubai, Qatar Telecom, Singtel, Telnor, and Viettel. Despite the current 9% mobile penetration claimed by the government, an ambitious goal has been set to reach 80% penetration by 2015.

The World Responding To Myanmar’s Progress

As Myanmar works towards attaining political stability, introducing economic reforms and easing social tensions, the world is also opening up its arms to increasingly embrace the otherwise banished land. In April 2013, the EU permanently lifted all economic sanctions against Myanmar, while maintaining the arms embargo for one more year. The USA, on the other hand, has not permanently removed the sanctions, but has had them suspended since May 2012. This allows US companies to invest in Myanmar through the route of obtaining licenses. The definite abolishment of these sanctions by the EU puts pressure on the USA to act soon and lift them as well, to avert the risk lagging behind in the race to tap this resource-rich market. The USA has already begun working on a framework agreement to boost trade and investment in Myanmar. Japan has also been improving its relations with Myanmar to gain a foothold in this market.

With the EU, the USA and Japan encouraging investments in Myanmar, several international companies have directed investments to this previously neglected country.

  • In August 2012, a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Corporation, Marubeni Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation contracted with the Burmese government to jointly develop a 2,400 hectare special economic zone in Thilawa, a region south of Yangon. The Myanmar government will hold a 51% stake, while the Japanese consortium will own the remaining share in the industrial park, which will also include large gas-fired power plant. In the first phase of the project development, the companies plan to invest US$500 million by 2015 to build the necessary infrastructure on the 500 hectares area in order to start luring Japanese and global manufacturers.

  • In August 2012, Kerry Logistics, a Hong-Kong based Asian leader in logistics, opened an office in Myanmar. Recognizing the immense potential in the freight forwarding and logistics sector (underpinned primarily by growing international trade), European freight forwarders, Kuehne + Nagel, also began operations in this country in April 2013.

  • To cash upon a booming tourism market, in February 2013, Hilton Hotels & Resorts initiated the development of the first internationally branded hotel in Yangon, which is expected to open in early 2014. The hotel will be a partnership between Hilton Worldwide and LP Holding Centrepoint Development, the Thai company that owns the 25-storey mixed-use tower, called Centrepoint Towers, which will house the hotel. Hilton has signed a management agreement with LP Holdings to operate the 300-room property.

  • In February 2013, Carlsberg, the world’s fourth-biggest brewer, announced its plans to re-enter Myanmar, after it left the country in mid 1990’s owing to international sanctions.

  • Fuji Xerox, a joint American-Japanese venture, set up its office in Myanmar in April 2013. The company, which is the first player in the office equipment industry to start direct operations in Yangon, looks to revive its internationally declining business through this venture.

  • In April 2013, JWT, an international advertising firm, entered into an affiliation agreement with Myanmar’s Mango Marketing, in anticipation of opportunities in this country, given an increasing interest in Myanmar expressed by a number of international players who are likely to seek advertising and marketing services.

Civil Unrest Still Stands As a Major Concern

While Myanmar has made great strides in reforms over the past year, the ongoing unrest between Myanmar’s majority Buddhists and minority communities (primarily Muslims), and the lack of a concerted effort by the government to address it, poses a major threat for the nation to descend into ethnic-religious war. In October 2012, the Rakhine riots between the Buddhists and Muslims claimed 110 lives and left 120,000 displaced to government setup refugee camps around Thechaung village. A similar case followed in April 2013 in Meiktila, where the death roll of Muslims reached 30. Strong international condemnation for the growing racial and religious violence in the region has caused concerns of losing international support gathered over the past few years. Moreover, the use of military force to suppress the Meiktila riots raises fear about the army once again seizing power in the name of restoring order to the nation.


Myanmar’s attempts to transition into a democracy from a highly repressive state have yielded positive outcomes over the past year. While Myanmar seems to be on the right trajectory for future growth and stability, the government must address internal conflicts immediately before the nation stands at risk of tumbling back into chaos, with possible outcomes similar to those seen in Yugoslavia. Therefore, it is safe to say that although political and economic developments are increasingly seeing the daylight, underpinned by the government’s pro-development course, the recent spate of religious, ethnic and communal violence as well as the magnitude of reforms still to be introduced, might still question the nation’s ability to attract and sustain foreign investments and economic development in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Indonesia – Is The Consecutive Years Of Record Sales For Real Or Is It The Storm Before The Lull?

Part II of our Automotive MIST series brings us to Asia – Indonesia, now the second largest South-east Asian automotive market.

Indonesia, South-east Asia’s biggest economy, is now set to become the region’s largest automotive market as well. While Indonesia sold more vehicles than Thailand for the first time in 2011, the land of white elephants made a strong recovery in 2012 and regained its status as the biggest automotive market in the region. This, however, wasn’t enough to take the sheen off the performance of Indonesia’s automotive market in 2012. The country crossed the 1 million mark (vehicles sold in a calendar year) for the first time, surpassing expectations and beating all forecasts. This is the third consecutive year of record sales and represents something of a gold rush for automotive OEMs.

Indonesia achieved GDP growth of 6.2% in 2012 only slightly lower than the 6.5% it clocked in 2011. Over the past decade, its GDP growth has averaged 5.7%, highlighting a positive domestic economic environment. Rising average income levels has created a burgeoning middle class (half of its population of 240 million). Low borrowing costs, rising purchasing power, cheap subsidized fuel, reduced inflation and currency stability have positively influenced the automotive sector. Huge construction projects and mining investment drove the demand for commercial vehicles.

It is no surprise, then, that car-makers are lining up to increase output, with both incumbents and new entrants making large investments to improve their production capacity in the country. The market is currently dominated by Japanese OEMs, with a share of almost 90%. Toyota (along with its affiliate Daihatsu) accounts for almost half of domestic sales, while Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Honda and Nissan are the other important players (in that order).

The Japanese automotive OEMs are on a massive expansion drive in Indonesia – major automotive OEMs and over 50 automotive component makers from Japan committed an investment of about USD 2.4 billion in 2012 to boost production capacity. Car production is expected to increasefrom 900,000 units in 2012 to 1.5 million units in 2015.

  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indonesia (TMMI) is building two manufacturing plants at a combined cost of USD 534.4 million to double its annual production capacity to 240,000 units.

  • Suzuki Indomobil Motor, a joint venture between Suzuki Motor and Indomobil Sukses Internasional plans to spend USD 782.6 million to double its annual production capacity to 200,000 units.

  • Nissan Motor plans to invest USD 400 million to increase production capacity from 150,000 to 250,000.

  • Honda Motor is building an automotive plant that would triple its production capacity to 180,000 per year. The plant is expected to be operational by 2014 and create 2,000-5,000 jobs.

  • Astra Daihatsu Motor, a joint venture between Daihatsu Motor and Astra International is spending USD 233.1 million to boost capacity from 330,000 to 430,000 units.

  • Isuzu Astra Motor Indonesia (joint venture of Isuzu Motors and Astra International) and Krama Yudha Tiga Berlian Motors (subsidiary of Mitsubishi Motors) are investing USD 111.1 million and USD 27.8 million, respectively to expand their production capacities.

Other fringe players such as GM, Ford and BMW are also expanding their presence while Tata Motors also recently entered the market.

  • In August 2011, GM announced that it would be resuming operations at its plant in West Java which has been shut since 2005. The company is investing USD 150 million and the plant is expected to be operational by this year.

  • BMW also recently doubled its production capacity through an investment of USD 11.15 million.

The next step up for Indonesia is to come out of Thailand’s shadow and establish itself as an export hub. In 2012, exports accounted for 45% of Thailand’s automotive industry while the corresponding figure was only 16% for Indonesia. After the floods in Thailand in 2011, automotive OEMs are keen on diversifying production and Indonesia has emerged as the manufacturing hub at about the right time for them. Consequently, OEMs have committed over USD 2 billion to expand their production capacities in Indonesia.

Underlying Growth Potential

  1. Vehicle ownership levels in Indonesia are very low at 32 per 1,000 people, compared to 123 cars per 1,000 people in Thailand, 300 cars per 1,000 people in Malaysia and around 460 cars per 1,000 people in developed countries. Hypothetically, to reach the same penetration rate as its neighbouring countries, Indonesia would require additional 108 million cars on the road. Given that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, the potential is obvious and these statistics fuel belief that despite the record sales, there is significant scope for continued rise in sales. Industry experts forecast annual sales of 2 million cars by the end of the decade and by then the country would have long since overtaken Thailand as the region’s biggest automotive market.

  2. In 2013, the Indonesian government announced the ‘Low Carbon Emission (LEC)’ program to spur the development of eco-friendly vehicles to include hybrid cars, electric cars and ‘Low Cost Green Cars (LCGC)’ – vehicles with efficient fuel consumption. With the automotive industry ready to commit USD 4.5 billion on the project, Indonesia has the potential to be a major player in the LCGC market if the government goes ahead with its promise to provide tax incentives and other support for the production of these LEC vehicles. The project will completely change Indonesia’s position in the global automotive industry and may also transform the landscape of the domestic industry by boosting car sales in the long term. With bigger volumes generated from LCGC program, manufacturers operating in Indonesia could also catch up with Thailand by exporting to new markets, particularly other developing economies.

  3. Over the years, automobile manufacturers have been notorious for their penchant to establish production set-ups close to component suppliers – to the extent possible. Indonesia has now reached a stage where it has a substantial base of local component suppliers, making the country an even more attractive destination for vehicle production, and with OEMs now planning production expansion in the country, this should further stimulate growth of the components industry.

The Challenges

The success story is not without its woes though. The economic meltdown in Europe and critical challenges in the domestic market will potentially slow down growth if not addressed timely and properly.

  1. Fuel Subsidy – The Indonesian government wants to reduce the fuel subsidy to free up funds to invest in the development of the country’s infrastructure. The government had planned to increase the fuel prices but the proposal was shot down by the parliament in March 2012. The price increase is, however, inevitable and once the proposal does go through, it increases the total cost of vehicle ownership and maintenance, thereby reducing purchasing power of vehicle buyers. (Read our Perspectives on India’s fuel subsidy struggles: India – Reducing Reliance on Diesel)

  2. Enforcement of Minimum Down-payment – To prevent the risk of a ‘car loan bubble’ the government reduced the Loan-to-value ratio (LTV) to 70% when borrowing from banks to buy cars – essentially forcing buyers to pay more down-payment than before. Loans account for 70% of all new car purchases in Indonesia and although it did not affect vehicle sale in 2012 it is expected to have an impact on sales in 2013.

  3. Dependence on Japanese OEMs – With Japanese OEMs accounting for almost 90% of the Indonesian automotive market, Indonesia is overly reliant on Japan. This became evident during the 2011 earthquake in Japan, when disruptions in supply chain were felt across ASEAN, including Indonesia. Although automotive sales in Indonesia did witness impressive growth, such dependence acts as a hindrance and might hold the country’s automotive industry back from fulfilling its potential in the long run.

So, is the upswing in the Indonesian automotive market for real or is it tempting to deceive again? After sticking with the country as other companies bailed out during one of its periodic meltdowns, Japanese auto OEMs are now benefiting from the consecutive years of record vehicle sales in Indonesia. And the extremely low vehicle penetration rate highlights the huge underlying potential. However, critical challenges remain and the country must tackle them effectively if it wants to become the preferred manufacturing hub in the ASEAN region.

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We study the South Korean automotive market in our next discussion. Being the most developed automotive sector amongst the MIST countries, we try and understand the underlying growth potential in this Asian giant and evaluate the challenges faced by OEMs and component suppliers.

Mexico – The Next Automotive Production Powerhouse? – read the first part of our MIST series.

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