During this month’s AM Focus Automotive, we are going to provide the most accurate scenario for automotive additive manufacturing in final part production. We will present an analysis of the latest progress made by each major automaker group and some of the key activities—either publicly disclosed or confirmed by reliable sources. In this first episode, we take a look at Volkswagen additive manufacturing activities. The next episodes will cover General Motors, Ford, BWM, Daimler Benz, PSA, FCA and JLR.
The VW group is one of the largest adopters of additive manufacturing for production. AM technologies have already been used in production mainly by the group’s many luxury brands (Lamborghini, Bugatti, Porsche and Bentley). In these cases, lower unit numbers and fewer cost restraints were faster to meet AM’s value proposition for metal and polymer technologies.
The primary VW Group brand is now directly looking at high-productivity binder jetting technology by HP for its own brand of mass-produced vehicles. Most of Volkswagen additive manufacturing related activities happen at the automakers’ state of the art 3D Printing Center at the Autostadt, at the Wolfsburg factory site. The group relies on this center to test and learn about AM technologies, while also conducting some tooling and final part production. Production of larger batches is generally carried out through partnerships with external AM services. In late 2018, Volkswagen additive manufacturing at the Wolfsburg, site was expanded to include an Additive Industries MetalFab 1 system to 3D print advanced tooling and spare parts.
One of the key activities is the result of the recent partnership signed with HP and GKN for the use of HP’s new metal jet binder jetting technology. Through this deal, the Volkswagen brand’s Toolmaking unit at the Wolfsburg site will soon be able to go into actual 3D series production for a large number of parts. Exactly which parts these are has not been clearly established yet (a sample of 10,000 miniature models was produced for a marketing initiative), but it is expected that they will initially be parts between 2 and 5 cm in length, produced mainly in steel alloys.
Electric vehicles are also a big driver for new manufacturing tech at VW: when developing the I.D. R Pikes Peak electric racing car, Volkswagen engineers used a model for which a large number of individual parts had been produced using 3D printing. These parts have also been used in test drives and even in finished race cars—in the form of small components such as cable mounts and switches.
Volkswagen is not the only brand in the Group to use metallic 3D printing. An Audi team at the 3D printing center in Ingolstadt is working on spare-part and serial part production. Replacement parts that are rarely needed, such as water connecting pipes for the W12 engine, have been produced with 3D printing using metal PBF supplied by SLM Solutions. Projects involve using SLM Solutions AM technology to integrate additional functions such as cooling or current, along with weight reduction. The companies believe that nearly every automaker also has vehicle programs with 2,000–3,000 units per year in its portfolio. Within these, there are also already several aluminum die-cast components today that can be produced more economically using additive processes.
Audi has also launched a development partnership with EOS. The EOS Additive Minds consulting division works with Audi on the implementation of 3D printing as well as the development of a 3D printing center in Ingolstadt, Germany. Audi first applied 3D printing to equipment and prototypes and has deployed the technology in its motorsports division. Along with inserts for die casting molds and hot working segments, the company can positively influence the process of series production by conformal cooling, producing parts and vehicle components more cost-effectively.
Porsche’s research and production activities with AM are concentrated in the Weissach Development Center. The automaker uses the 3D printing process to manufacture individual parts for classic cars. One example is the release lever for the clutch in the Porsche 959, which is no longer available. This gray cast-iron part has to meet very high-quality requirements and is seldom needed due to the low production number of the super sports car itself. Porsche is also working with DMG Mori on the production of tools and metal final parts via DED processes.
In 2017, Porsche also made an investment in Markforged. The company’s continuous fiber composite and bound metal filament extrusion technologies are used primarily for tool-making.
Bugatti is another member of the Volkswagen Group using AM. The company developed the world’s first brake caliper made by additive manufacturing, an eight-piston monobloc model. Compared to previous aluminum components, which are installed in cars like the Bugatti Chiron, the printed titanium brake caliper saves considerable weight and is also more robust. In fact, Bugatti has worked with SLM Solutions on serial production by AM of several parts for the Chiron: these include brake calipers and aerodynamic elements in the rear spoiler.
Bugatti also worked with SLM Solutions, Siemens and the Fraunhofer Institute to produce the world’s largest hybrid functional assembly, based on 3D printed hollow and thin-walled titanium metal components combined with ceramic-coated wound high-modulus carbon fiber tubes: an extremely lightweight yet ultra-rigid rear wing travel and adjustment system also for the Bugatti Chiron.
More recently, Bugatti collaborated with APWORKS on 3D printed exhaust finishers, also for the Bugatti Chiron. The pair of titanium exhaust finishers, part of the car’s tail section, served to “push the exhaust emissions further from the rear end of the car to reduce turbulence and improve steering behavior at high speeds. It should be noted that Bugatti is also the company that created the Veryon White Gold, the first vehicle to feature porcelain interior and exterior parts. One day this work of art may lend itself to some very nice ceramic 3D printing.
Lamborghini’s first production parts using Carbon’s technology were a new textured fuel cap with the Urus label and a clip component for an air duct. Both parts are on Lamborghini’s Super SUV, the Urus model, which was first introduced in 2018. Lamborghini is a long-time user of additive manufacturing for prototyping and tooling, relying mainly on Stratasys FDM and PolyJet technologies, both internally and through external service providers. The collaboration between Lamborghini and Carbon has evolved into more parts, this time for the exclusive Sian model, and more parts were also introduced just recently. In fact, Lamborghini also embraced another 3D printing project, this time as a great marketing initiative, by swapping a 3D printed Aventador with a real one last Christmas.