German automaker Audi has announced it will be expanding the use of polymer 3D printing in its production lines. The technology will be leveraged to produce custom designed auxiliary tools on demand. As part of the expansion, Audi will be establishing a separate department to oversee the integration of polymer AM at its Neckarsulm site.
At Audi’s craft-scale R8 factory at the Bölllinger Höfe site, polymer 3D printing is already well underway. There, an expert team at the startup/analysis center has been using the technology to develop new and innovative tools to serve workers on the production line. Led by project manager Waldemar Hirsch, the team designs tools on site and rapidly produces them using in-house 3D printing—a capability which has been found to have several hundred applications across the company.
The recent expansion announcement, as well as the establishment of a separate additive manufacturing department, will enable Audi to further explore these application areas, and benefit from cost and time savings for the production of auxiliary tools.
“By establishing a separate specialist department for 3D printing, we are professionalizing this already successful project,” said Helmut Stettner, Neckarsulm Plant Manager. “Even more employees will be able to benefit from the experienced expert team and the custom auxiliary tools in the future.”
In addition to broadening the use of polymer 3D printing in production, Audi also aims to increasingly engage its production line employees with the technology with the overarching goal of driving “cultural change.”
“When designing a prototype, it is very important to us that we fulfill our colleagues’ wishes exactly,” Hirsch said. “Our goal is to provide our Audi colleagues the 3D printed tool as quickly as possible, thus supporting them in their daily work.”
Audi is one of many automotive manufacturers exploiting the benefits of additive manufacturing as part of a larger effort to digitally transform production and transition into a modern smart factory setting. In addition to 3D printing polymer tools, the automaker also uses metal AM to produce spare parts on demand and full-colour 3D printing to produce design prototypes.
Overall, the integration of additive manufacturing into its production process is enabling Audi to have more manufacturing flexibility and efficiency. Importantly, it is also enabling an increase in customized parts and tools. As Stettner concluded: “The decision to establish the new department supports the creation of a cross-site network. Ultimately the entire Volkswagen Group will benefit from the expertise in Neckarsulm.”