3D printing is beginning to become a thing in the auto industry, even though a lot of automakers have yet to embrace the technology itself. Audi, however, has embraced 3D printing to the extent that it’s now investigating the process behind the 3D printing of metal objects. To illustrate how far along Audi has come in this development, the company has successfully created a 1:2 scale of the legendary 1936 Auto Union Type C race car.

The creation of the scaled Auto Union Type C comes by way of Audi Toolmaking, an in-house division that’s largely responsible for the development of new technologies. Whereas other companies have managed to successfully use 3D printing on a small scale - Koenigsegg, for instance, was able to use the technology in the development of the One:1 megacar - Audi is trying to use the same technology and apply it on a bigger scale. The 1:2 scale example of the Auto Union Typ C is the biggest example it can build at this point since the printer can only construct parts that measure up to 9.5 inches long and 7.9 inches wide. In other words, it still can’t print materials that can be used in the actual manufacturing of our cars.

The know-how is already there, as is the precedent since 3D printing using plastic and in some cases, carbon fiber, has already been achieved. The short and presumably long-term goal for Audi Toolmaking is to be able to complete that same process using metals instead. Doing so would have immeasurable benefits for the company, as it could cut the production time of a number of integral parts to its cars, thus speeding up the assembly process.

The company is showcasing the 1:2 scale of the Auto Union Typ C to show how far it’s come in this technological pursuit with the hopes of one day building something that’s true-to-scale.

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Why it matters

I’m fascinated by this for a lot of reasons. Obviously, any advancement in the auto industry that can provide benefits for automakers is welcome in my book. 3D printing is already being used in the business, but only a handful of companies have embraced this new method and for one reason or another, others have yet to jump on board.

That said, give credit to Audi for committing significant time and resources in not only studying the potential of 3D printing, but also taking it a step further in trying to find ways to maximize this potential. The 1:2 scale of the Auto Union Typ C may look cool in its face, but it’s far from where the German automaker wants to be. Judging by its intentions, Audi is seriously looking at ways to expand metal 3D printing into something that can really be a game-changer in the business. Can you imagine what a full-scale metal 3D printing can do, not just for the auto industry, but for the whole gamut of infrastructure?

If this process develops into something that’s safe and secure on a macro level, it could be possible that we see other industries take advantage of metal 3D printing. I seriously don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but let’s say that this technology advances to the point that we start seeing it in cars, how long is it going to take before we see other industries use 3D printed-metals in their line of work? Could we see structures use 3D-printed metals? Can you even begin to imagine living in a house that uses this material as its foundation?

I know it’s far-fetched to imagine it now. Some of you might even think I’m losing my mind a little bit. But a small part of me thinks its possible, maybe not in the immediate or mid-term future, but definitely in the long run.

Auto Union Type C e-tron study

2011 Auto Union Type C e-tron study High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 389997

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Press Release

From powder to a component: With a 3D printer, Audi Toolmaking has produced a model of the historical Grand Prix sports car “Auto Union Typ C” from the year 1936. The company is now examining further possible applications of metal printers for the production of complex components. At the same time, Audi is creating important synergies with toolmaking in other parts of the Volkswagen Group.

“We are pushing forward with new manufacturing technologies at Audi Toolmaking and at the Volkswagen Group,” stated Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, Audi’s Board of Management Member for Production and Head of Toolmaking at the Volkswagen Group. “Together with partners in the area of research, we are constantly exploring the boundaries of new processes. One of our goals is to apply metal printers in series production.”

The Volkswagen Group has a total of 14 toolmaking units in nine countries. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Waltl, cooperative ventures have been arranged for research and development. The first focus of the cooperation is the implementation of metallic 3D printing and 3D printing in the sand‑printing method. Audi Toolmaking has now used metal printing to produce all the metallic parts of the Silver Arrow model “Auto Union Typ C” on a scale of 1:2.

For this purpose, a selective-sintering laser melted layers of metallic powder with a grain size of 15 to 40 thousandths of a millimeter, roughly half of the diameter of a human hair. The process therefore allows the production of components with complex geometries, which with conventional methods could either not be produced or only with great difficulties. Audi Toolmaking is currently using 3D printing to produce components out of aluminum and steel. At present, this process can be used to produce shapes and objects with a length of 240 millimeters and a height of up to 200 millimeters. These printed components achieved a higher density than components made by die casting or hot forming.

Audi Toolmaking is regarded as a pioneer in the development of new technologies, also within the Volkswagen Group. The company’s innovations include the intelligent tool, which is used to help make more sharper contours in the sheet metal of car bodies. Lasers installed in the tool measure the position of the sheet metal while activators take corrective action.

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