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Volkswagen Toolmaking Opens 3D Printing Centre

The Volkswagen brand’s Toolmaking unit says it is adding a “highly advanced” 3D printing centre to its facilities in Wolfsburg, bringing the “most highly advanced generation of 3D printers” to the Volkswagen Group to enable the production of complex vehicle parts in the future.

“The 3D printing centre 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 3D printers directly on the production line for vehicle production,” Tostmann added.

VW says the new generation of 3D printers developed in cooperation with 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 3D printing considerably easier but also faster, while in future, it will be possible to manufacture production parts in addition to prototypes, according to Volkswagen.

At the opening ceremony, Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing, underlined the performance of the team which was said to have recorded outstanding achievements for the future since the start of conversion work a year ago. “Here, we have created an innovative centre which will be of tremendous strategic importance for Volkswagen in the future.”

“The inauguration of the 3D printing centre 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 says it has mainly used the SLM process for 3D 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 centre will now allow the use of other 3D 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. Volkswagen say in future, the various processes, which each have specific applications, will supplement each other in an ideal way.