German auto manufacturer Audi has announced that its Pre-Series Center and Plastics 3D Printing Center in Ingolstadt, Germany have adopted Stratasys’ J750 full-colour, multi-material 3D printer for producing faithful prototypes and accelerating the design verification process.
Audi has found a range of uses for additive manufacturing in its development and production processes. Working with SLM Solutions, it has adopted selective laser melting (SLM) technology for the purpose of producing metal prototypes as well as rare or replacement parts. For instance, it has relied on the SLM280 system to produce water adapter components for the Audi W12 engine on demand.
But as Audi and many other automotive companies have shown, there are not only applications for metal 3D printing in the car manufacturing industry, and polymer-based technologies have proven to be useful for a range of applications.
At the Audi Pre-Series Center in Ingolstadt, for example, Audi has begun using Stratasys’ J750—the first full-colour and multi-material 3D printer—for design innovation and verification. Specifically, the technology is being used to produce full-colour physical models of automotive parts for the purpose of evaluating their design.
The design verification process is an important one in automotive manufacturing, as it results in either the approval or denial of new design concepts before a new vehicle is put into production. From wheel covers, to door handles to radiator grills, most parts of the vehicle are prototyped at this stage. Before 3D printing was adopted, more traditional methods such as molding and milling were used to create the prototypes, though these methods presented certain difficulties and limitations.
With additive manufacturing, however, Audi says the team at its Pre-Series Center are able to accelerate the design verification process. With full-colour, multi-material printing capabilities, the company says it has even achieved prototyping lead time reductions by up to 50% for certain parts.
One of the vehicle components that has benefitted from Stratasys’ 3D printer are tail light covers. Typically, these transparent, multi-coloured covers were prototyped using either milling or molding and had to be made in multiple parts, requiring a lengthy assembly process.
Now, however, the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center is capable of 3D printing the entire part using the full-colour, multi-material J750, itself capable of printing over 500,000 colour combinations. By using 3D printing and eliminating the multi-step production method previously used, Audi has cut prototyping lead times for tail light covers by 50% while meeting its stringent design requirements.
“Design is one of the most important buying decisions for Audi customers, therefore it’s crucial we adhere to supreme quality standards during the design and concept phase of vehicle development,” explained Dr. Tim Spiering, Head of the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center. “As a result, we need prototypes to have exact part geometries, no distortion and extremely high quality, as well as true-to-part color and transparency. The Stratasys J750 3D Printer will offer us a significant advantage, as it allows us to print the exact textures and colors our design defines. This is essential for getting design concepts approved for production. In terms of 3D printing transparent parts, I have not seen a comparable technology that meets our standards.”
Dr. Sperling leads a 24-person team at the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center, the division of the auto manufacturer responsible for all polymer 3D printing related matters. The center bought its first Stratasys FDM 3D printer in 2002, and now runs a facility with ten 3D printers in operation—including Stratasys FDM and PolyJet 3D printer models.
“Audi is a prime example of how our unique full-color, multi-material 3D printing technology can combine several design processes into one, rapidly accelerating development cycles,” added Andy Middleton, President EMEA, Stratasys. “If you extend the time-savings achieved by Audi on the tail lights to other parts of the vehicle, the overall impact on time-to-market can be huge. We’re excited to see how Audi continues to leverage our FDM and PolyJet technologies into new application areas to further increase efficiencies across its development process.”