Your next Passat could be 3D-printed. No, just kidding.
A couple of manufacturers are already 3D-printing different components for some of the exotic cars on the market. For example, using this technology, Porsche can produce rare parts such as a rearview mirror base for the 911 Speedster or a fuel cap gasket for the 959. Ford, in turn, will 3D-print two of the brake parts of the new 2020 Shelby Mustang GT500. Volkswagen is a bit late to join the party, but the German company wants to implement the technology into mainstream vehicle production.
The automaker has just announced it is opening a new toolmaking center which is located at the company’s main production facility in Wolfsburg. The unit will use “the most highly advanced generation of 3D printers” developed in cooperation with HP.
“The 3D printing center takes Volkswagen’s additive manufacturing activities to a new level,” Dr. Andreas Tostmann, Board Member for Production at VW, commented during the opening ceremony. “In two to three years’ time, three-dimensional printing will also become interesting for the first production parts. In the future, we may be able to use 3D printers directly on the production line for vehicle production.”
Basically, that last sentence summarizes Volkswagen’s basic idea for 3D-printing. The manufacturer wants to produce metal and plastic parts for primary installation and not just spare components, and that should start happening in the next two to three years. A team of planners and researchers will now work on the strategy that will lay the foundations of the future 3D-printing on the assembly lines.
The process for 3D-printing Volkswagen is using applies material to a base plate in a thin layer and a laser beam then melts the powder at the points where the component is to be created. Once this is done, the molten powder hardens, forming a solid material layer.
Check out the press release section below for more details.
The Volkswagen brand’s Toolmaking unit is adding a highly advanced 3-D printing center to its facilities in Wolfsburg. With the opening of the center, the unit is bringing the most highly advanced generation of 3-D printers to the Volkswagen Group, which will allow the production of complex vehicle parts in the future. In addition, with the new center, Toolmaking is implementing a key point of the pact for the future concluded in 2016 and expanding its production competences with subsidies from the Innovation Fund II.
“The 3-D printing center takes Volkswagen’s additive manufacturing activities to a new level,” said Dr. Andreas Tostmann, Board Member for Production of the Volkswagen brand. “In two to three years’ time, three-dimensional printing will also become interesting for the first production parts. In the future, we may be able to use 3-D printers directly on the production line for vehicle production,” Tostmann added.
The new generation of 3-D printers developed in cooperation with the US manufacturer HP is the most modern within the Volkswagen Group and is based on the binder jetting process, which supplements the previous selective laser melting (SLM) process. Binder jetting not only makes metallic 3-D printing considerably easier but also faster. In future, it will be possible to manufacture production parts in addition to prototypes.
At the 3-D printing center, which has a floor space of 3,100 m², toolmakers, planners and research team members cooperate closely on the development of new products and processes. Within the framework of the pact for the future, a new additive manufacturing unit providing 11 future-oriented jobs has been established.
At the opening ceremony, the Head of Additive Manufacturing, Oliver Pohl, especially underlined the performance of the entire team which has recorded outstanding achievements for the future since the start of conversion work a year ago. “Here, we have created an innovative center which will be of tremendous strategic importance for Volkswagen in the future.”
"The inauguration of the 3-D printing center underlines the importance of Innovation Fund II, which makes investments like this possible," said Works Council member Susanne Preuk. "The Works Council welcomes the fact that the company is opening up to new technologies and shaping them in a future-oriented way in the interest of the employees."
To date, the Volkswagen Group has mainly used the SLM process for 3-D printing with metals. In this process, the material used, such as steel, is applied to a base plate in a thin layer. A laser beam then melts the powder at the points where the component is to be created. The molten powder hardens, forming a solid material layer. The new printers at the center will now allow the use of other 3-D printing processes such as binder jetting. In this additive process, components are manufactured using a metal powder and a binder applied in layers. The metal part which has been printed is then “baked” in a sintering process. In future, the various processes, which each have specific applications, will supplement each other in an ideal way.