german car manufacturer Volkswagen announced plans to use binder jet 3D printing to manufacture components at its main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, becoming the first automaker to use 3D printing technology in its production process.
The company has extended its partnership with the OEM 3D printer HP and entered into a software partnership with an industrial manufacturing company Siemens to introduce the technology to its plant in Wolfsburg, with the aim of reducing costs and increasing the productivity of its manufacturing process.
“Despite the current challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we continue to work on innovation,” said Christian Vollmer, Volkswagen brand board member responsible for production and logistics. “Together with our partners, we aim to make 3D printing even more efficient in the years to come and suitable for use on production lines. “
3D printing at Volkswagen
Volkswagen has used 3D printing for 25 years since the technology’s initial adoption to accelerate vehicle development and reduce costs. Today, the company’s Wolfsburg plant has 13 units using various 3D printing processes to manufacture plastic and metal components for prototyping and aftermarket parts.
The company’s luxury car brands Audi and Porsche have already used 3D printing for component lightening, including the water connectors for the interior of the Audi W12 engine. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s Autoeuropa plant in Portgual achieved an annual savings of $ 160,000 in 2017 through the use of FDM desktop printers, reducing typical production costs by over 90%.
In 2018, the company opened its advanced 3D printing center to house a range of advanced metal additive manufacturing machines. It was here that Volkswagen began to investigate the potential of 3D binder jet printing for the production of prototypes and tools, and then for end-use parts.
A year later, the company established its Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) with the launch of a unique concept vehicle incorporating 3D printing, and shortly thereafter announced that with GKN and HP, 10,000 metal parts were produced on the HP Metal Jet 3D printing system. It was this step that paved the way for Volkswagen’s continued partnership with HP for the integration of the company’s 3D printed structural parts into its next generation of vehicles.
Integration of binder jet 3D printing
According to Volkswagen, the binder jet will lead to the production maturity of 3D printing in automotive manufacturing, using the technology cost-effectively. To take advantage of the benefits of the binder jet, Volkswagen is expanding its partnership with HP to supply the printers and has called on Siemens to provide specialized software for the technology.
The three companies will establish a joint expert team at Volkswagen’s advanced 3D printing center starting this summer. Through their respective partnerships, the companies will explore which components can be produced economically and quickly in the future by binder blasting, and also explore how 3D printing can support the digital transformation of production at Volkswagen.
Volkswagen and Siemens will also work together to optimize the positioning of components in the build chamber through nesting, making it possible to produce twice as many parts per print session.
“We are very proud to support Volkswagen with our innovative 3D printing solutions,” said Cedrik Neike, Siemens Board Member and CEO of Siemens Digital Industries. “Our automation and software solutions are at the forefront of industrial production applications. With this technology, Volkswagen will be able to develop and produce components faster, more flexibly and using fewer resources. “
So far, the first components produced by binder spraying have gone to the Volkswagen site in Osnabrück for certification. The parts in question relate to the A-pillar of the company’s T-Roc convertible and are said to weigh half the weight of conventional sheet steel components.
Volkswagen has already carried out crash tests on 3D printed metal vehicle components, but so far producing larger volumes has not proven to be profitable. Integrating binder jet technology into the company’s 3D printing capabilities will change that, Volkswagen says, and make the use of certain automotive components on production lines economically viable.
Volkswagen aims to produce up to 100,000 3D-printed automotive components at its Wolfsburg plant each year by 2025.
The initial partnership with Siemens is part of a larger and more comprehensive strategic partnership between the two companies in the area of digital production platforms.
“I am delighted that we have a strong and innovative partner in Siemens so that we can start working on the automotive production processes of the future,” added Vollmer. “The example of 3D printing shows that this transformation harbors many diverse innovation opportunities. “
Looking for a career in additive manufacturing? Visit 3D printing works for a selection of roles in the industry.
Ssubscribe to our Youtube channel for the latest 3D printing video shorts, reviews and webinar reruns.
Featured Image Shows two Volkswagen employees check the quality of structural parts produced using the binder jet process for automotive production in front of the binder printer prototype at the high-tech 3D printing center in Wolfsburg. Photo via Volkswagen.