Volkswagen is pressing ahead with the use of 3D printers in car production. The binder jetting additive process is being used to manufacture components at the company’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Using binder jet components reduces costs and increases productivity – for example, the components weigh only half as much as those made from sheet steel.
Volkswagen is currently the only carmaker using this 3D printing technology in the production process. “Despite the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re continuing to work on innovation,” says Christian Vollmer, member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Brand responsible for Production and Logistics. “Together with our partners, we aim to make 3D printing even more efficient in the years ahead and suitable for production-line use.”
The automaker has invested an amount in the mid-double-digit million euro range over the past five years. In addition, the company has entered into a software partnership with Siemens and expanded its existing collaboration with printer manufacturer HP Inc. With the first full-scale use of binder jetting, Volkswagen designers intend to acquire important experience and learn, for example, which components can be produced economically and quickly in the future or how additive manufacturing can support the digital transformation of production at the company.
HP is providing the high-tech printers needed and Siemens is providing the software for additive manufacturing. One key process step that has been worked on jointly by Siemens and VW is optimizing the positioning of components in the build chamber. Known as nesting, this technique makes it possible to produce twice as many parts per print session.
From summer, the three companies intend to establish a joint expert team at the high-tech 3D printing center which opened in Wolfsburg at the end of 2018 and enables the manufacture of complex automotive components using 3D printing. The center also trains employees in the use of these technologies.
By 2025, the aim is to produce up to 100,000 components by 3D printing in Wolfsburg each year. The first components made using the binder jetting process have gone to Osnabrück for certification: components for the A pillar of the T-Roc convertible. These weigh almost 50% less than conventional components made from sheet steel. This reduction alone makes the process interesting for automotive production applications. Volkswagen has already successfully conducted crash tests on 3D-printed metallic vehicle components. Until now, the production of larger volumes was not cost-effective enough. However, the new technology and the collaboration will now make production-line use economically viable.
Volkswagen has been using 3D printing for 25 years, starting in Technical Development with the goal of accelerating vehicle development and reducing costs. Today, there are 13 units at the Wolfsburg plant using various printing processes to manufacture both plastic and metal components. Typical examples are plastic components for prototypes such as center consoles, door cladding, instrument panels and bumpers. Printed metal components include intake manifolds, radiators, brackets and support elements. Over the past 25 years, more than one million components have been produced.
Two Volkswagen employees check the quality of structural parts produced using the binder jetting process for car production in front of the prototype of the special printer at the high-tech 3D printing center in Wolfsburg.