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3D printing: a technology ready for mass production

20.9.2018
3D printing: a technology ready for mass production

Simplified processes and ever more opportunities for customisation: 3D printing opens up new horizons, involving more and more components every day.

Volkswagen Group is the first automotive manufacturer to use the latest 3D printing technology: the HP Metal Jet process simplifies component manufacturing, increasing production speed by up to fifty times compared to other 3D printing methods. It is based on an additive process in which parts are produced layer by layer using a powder and binder. The component is then “baked” into a metallic component in the so called sintering process. This differs from previous processes in which powder is melted by means of a laser.

Thanks to this technology, three dimensional printing of components is mass production ready for the first time in the automotive industry. Volkswagen Group is working together with HP and GKN Powder Metallurgy to further optimise the process. Automotive production is, indeed, changing: customers are increasingly expecting more personalisation options. At the same time, complexity is growing with the number of new models. For this reason, the Group is making use of progressively advanced technologies, and 3D printing plays a particularly important role in manufacturing of individual parts.

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Each Volkswagen vehicle is manufactured from 6,000 to 8,000 different parts. Previous 3D printing processes are only suitable, however, for the specific production of individual parts or prototypes. The new HP 3D Metal Jet technology, on the other hand, enables the production of a large number of parts for the first time – without having to develop and manufacture specific tools. This significantly reduces the time required to manufacture parts, meaning that the process is now also applicable to the production of large volumes in a short period of time.

It is a fascinating innovation for all industrial sectors, not just the automotive industry, and the next step is printing small runs of customisable design elements, such as rear hatch badges, special gear knobs or keys with personalised lettering. Further refinement of the technology aims to allow the first structural components for mass-production vehicles to be printed within two to three years.

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A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts manufactured in this way is expected to increase significantly. The next generation of Volkswagen Group vehicles will feature ever more components of this type, which will be light, completely functional and safe. The proportion of applications will only continue to expand.

SourceVolkswagen AG

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