Volkswagen is pressing ahead with the use of innovative 3D printers in car production, with the newest process – binder jetting – being used for the first time to manufacture components at the company’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.
While conventional 3D printing uses a laser to build a component layer by layer from metallic powder, the binder jetting process uses an adhesive, with the resulting metallic component then heated and shaped. Volkswagen says the binder jetting component reduces costs and increases productivity, adding that it is the only car maker using this 3D printing technology in the production process.
“Despite the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re continuing to work on innovation,” said Christian Vollmer, member of the Board of Management of Volkswagen 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.”
Cedrik Neike, member of the Managing Board of Siemens and CEO Digital Industries, said the company is proud to support Volkswagen with its 3D printing solutions.
“Our automation and software solutions are leading in industrial production applications. Using this technology, Volkswagen will be able to develop and produce components faster, more flexibly and using fewer resources,” Neike said.
Working together with Siemens and printer manufacturer HP, the three companies 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 Volkswagen.
HP is providing the high-tech printers needed and Siemens the special software for additive manufacturing. One key step that has been worked on jointly by Siemens and Volkswagen is optimising the positioning of components in the build chamber. The company said this technique, known as nesting, makes it possible to produce twice as many parts per print session.
The three companies intend to establish a joint expert team at the high-tech 3D printing centre which opened in Wolfsburg at the end of 2018, enabling the manufacture of complex automotive components using 3D printing. The centre also trains employees in the use of these technologies.
The aim is to produce up to 100,000 3D printed components in Wolfsburg each year by 2025. The first parts made using the binder jetting process – components for the A pillar of the T-Roc convertible – have gone to Osnabrueck for certification. Volkswagen said these parts weigh almost 50 per cent less than conventional components made from sheet steel, with this reduction alone making the process especially interesting for automotive production applications.
“Until now, the production of larger volumes [were] not cost-effective enough. However, the new technology and the collaboration will now make production-line use economically viable.”
According to Volkswagen, the collaboration with Siemens is part of a comprehensive strategic partnership in the field of digital production platforms.
“I’m pleased that we have a strong and innovative partner in Siemens so we can start working on the car production processes of the future. The example of 3D printing shows that this transformation harbours many diverse opportunities for innovation,” said Vollmer.
Volkswagen has used conventional 3D printing for 25 years, starting in technical development with the goal of accelerating vehicle development and reducing costs. There are 13 units at the Wolfsburg plant using various printing processes to manufacture plastic and metal components. Typical examples are plastic components for prototypes such as centre consoles, door cladding, instrument panels and bumpers. Printed metal components include intake manifolds, radiators, brackets and support elements. Volkswagen said that over the past 25 years, more than one million components have been produced.