VW claims that 3D printing is now ready to hit mass production

Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is usually utilized for the rapid production of prototypes and specialty parts. Now, however, Volkswagen claims a breakthrough development has readied this cutting-edge technology for mass production, opening up a slew of customer customization opportunities.

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The Full Story

This latest bit of news comes courtesy of a recent press release from Volkswagen that describes the automaker’s latest partnership with printing giant HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy. The three companies collaborated to develop an improved 3D printing process, which was recently put on display at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.

It’s called the HP Metal Jet for 3D printing, and it apparently improves 3D printing productivity a massive fifty times compared to previous metallic 3D printing techniques.

“Automotive production is facing major challenges,” said Volkswagen’s Head of Technology Planning and Development, Dr. Martin Goede. “Our customers are increasingly expecting more personalization options. At the same time, complexity is increasing with the number of new models. That’s why we are relying on state-of-the-art technologies to ensure a smooth and fast production. 3D printing plays a particularly important role in manufacturing of individual parts.”

One of the draws of 3D printing as compared to traditional manufacturing techniques is customization. If you have the proper computer-generated design, the printer will spit out a part quickly and exactly as intended, all without the need for any specialty tools or machinery. VW’s technique produces the parts layer by layer using a powder and a binder, after which the part is “baked” into its final metallic form.

The possibilities in play here are, in theory, pretty much endless.

Of course, Volkswagen will need to first focus on small stuff, like custom key fobs, gear knobs, badges, emblems, and the like, but eventually, this technology could offer customers unique wheel designs, body panels, performance upgrades, and much more.

“A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts from the 3D printer will increase significantly,” Dr. Goede explains. “Our goal is to integrate printed structural parts into the next generation of vehicles as quickly as possible. In the long term, we expect a continuous increase in unit numbers, part sizes and technical requirements - right up to soccer-size parts of over 100,000 units per year.”

Extrapolated over the very long term, we’re imagining highly customizable fully-electric autonomous vehicles printed out at a very rapid pace, with customers choosing from a wide variety of options, and even designing their own parts and aesthetic enhancements through an online customization tool.

What would you want to print for yourself?

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Simpler and faster HP Metal Jet process increases 3D printing productivity
3D printing for the first time ready for mass production
Cooperation with HP and GKN regarding the development and market launch of the new technology
Chicago / Wolfsburg, September 11, 2018 - Volkswagen is the first automotive manufacturer using the latest 3D printing technology: the “HP Metal Jet” process simplifies and speeds up metallic 3D printing. The biggest advantage: productivity improves fifty times compared to other 3D printing methods and depending on the component. Hence, for the first time, three-dimensional printing is mass production ready in automotive industry. Together with printer manufacturer HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy, Volkswagen is therefore pressing ahead with the development of the technology for mass production. The partners presented the new process for the first time at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago.

Dr Martin Goede, Head of Technology Planning and Development, Volkswagen, said: “Automotive production is facing major challenges: our customers are increasingly expecting more personalization options. At the same time, complexity is increasing with the number of new models. That’s why we are relying on state-of-the-art technologies to ensure a smooth and fast production. 3D printing plays a particularly important role in manufacturing of individual parts.”

A Volkswagen vehicle is manufactured from 6,000 to 8,000 different parts. Previous 3D printing processes can, however, only be used for the special production of individual parts or prototypes. The additive 3D Metal Jet technology from HP enable the production of a large number of parts using 3D printing for the first time – without having to develop and manufacture the corresponding tools. This significantly reduces the time required to manufacture parts. As a result, the process is now also interesting for the production of large quantities in a short period of time.

“That’s why the new HP Metal Jet platform is an important step into the future for us as an automotive manufacturer, but also for the entire industry. And we look forward to helping shape this development and thus creating further added value for our customers in the future,” Dr Goede continued.

In collaboration with HP and GKN, Volkswagen is further developing the technology so that design elements can be printed in a small series at first. This will be the prerequisite, to be able to produce individualized design parts such as tailgate lettering, special gear knobs or keys with personalized lettering for customers without a great deal of effort. The plan is to be able to offer this kind individualization proposition to customers as soon as possible.

As early as next year, GKN Powder Metallurgy intends to establish a process chain geared toward automotive production in collaboration with Volkswagen. The first small (design) components are to be used to further develop the technology so that the first structural components for mass-production vehicles can be printed within two to three years.

“A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts from the 3D printer will increase significantly,” explained Dr Goede. “Our goal is to integrate printed structural parts into the next generation of vehicles as quickly as possible. In the long term, we expect a continuous increase in unit numbers, part sizes and technical requirements – right up to soccer-size parts of over 100,000 units per year.”

The new 3D printing process using the HP Metal Jet process is an additive process in which parts are produced layer by layer using a powder and binder. The component is then “baked” into a metallic component in the so-called sintering process. This differs from previous processes in which powder is melted by means of a laser.

Stephen Nigro, President of 3D Printing at HP Inc, said: “Volkswagen is driving unprecedented innovation as the automotive industry goes through its most transformational era since cars first rolled off the assembly line,” said Stephen Nigro, President of 3D Printing, HP Inc. “We’re proud to collaborate with Volkswagen to identify opportunities for production based on HP’s new Metal Jet 3D printing platform. Together we are engineering and testing solutions for mass-customization and the creation of higher-performance, lower-cost functional parts. And as electrification ushers in entirely new vehicle architectures, we’re excited to collaborate on future 3D applications such as the lightweighting of fully functional and safety certified metal parts.”

More details on 3D printing at the Volkswagen brand can be found on our newsroom as of 3pm CEST.

An overview of the use of previous 3D printing technologies in the Volkswagen Group is available here.

Press contact

Volkswagen Communications
Dr. Marc Langendorf
Head of Corporate Communications
Tel.: +49-5361-9- 34474
marc.langendorf@volkswagen.de

Volkswagen Communications
Leslie Bothge
Spokesperson Procurement and Production
+49-5361-9-21549
leslie.bothge@volkswagen.de

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