3D printing can be an alternative to traditional production methods, such as milling and molding. For example, Audi has found plastics 3D printing has become an integral part of the automotive design process at its Plastics 3D Printing Center in its Pre-Series Center, in Ingolstadt, Germany, enabling engineering teams to overcome limitations of conventional processes and accelerate design verification. The Audi designers leverage the full-color, multi-material 3D printer – the Stratasys J750 – to innovate and accelerate design verification. For the production of tail light covers, Audi expects to reduce prototyping lead times by up to 50%.
Before a new vehicle goes into production, the Audi designers build physical models and prototypes for the brand to evaluate new designs and concepts thoroughly. In the case of tail light covers, the team traditionally used milling or molding to produce individual parts. The main challenge with these production techniques, though, is the multi-colored covers of the tail light housing. These individual color parts must be assembled, as they cannot be produced in one-piece. This time-intensive process increases lead times for design verification and subsequently delays time-to-market.
Ultra-realistic color, multi-material prototyping accelerates design
To streamline the process, the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center will use Stratasys’ J750 full-color, multi-material 3D printing. This will enable production of entirely transparent, multi-colored tail light covers in a single print, eliminating the need for its previous multi-step process. With over 500,000 color combinations available, the team can 3D print transparent parts in multiple colors and textures that meet the stringent requirements of the Audi design approval process.
“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,” explains 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.
“Using the J750 for the prototyping of tail light covers, we will be able to accelerate our design verification process,” continues Spiering. “We estimate time-savings of up to 50 percent by using this 3D print technique in our prototyping process of tail light covers.”
Dr. Spiering and his 24-member team are responsible for providing all plastics 3D printing expertise, advice and production at Audi. Having invested in its first Stratasys FDM 3D Printer in 2002, the division has since grown its portfolio to ten polymer 3D printers, including a range of Stratasys FDM and PolyJet 3D Printers.