With more than 25 years of using 3D printing technology, there probably isn’t a global automotive manufacturer that has pushed the limits of using additive manufacturing applications than the BMW Group. For most of the quarter-century that they have been using 3D printing, it was primarily used in the production of prototypes or one-off custom parts. However BMW began using 3D printing technology to produce end-use parts in series production back in 2012 with their new Rolls-Royce Phantom. Over the next several years, more than 10,000 3D printed components would end up being used to manufacture each Phantom coupe that came off the assembly line. The switch from traditionally manufactured parts to 3D printed parts was so successful that BMW began incorporating them into the new Rolls-Royce Dawn this year.
The BMW Group Additive Manufacturing Centre at their Research and Innovation Centre has committed itself to taking the most advanced 3D printing technologies available and finding ways to apply it in the production of their vehicles. With the Rolls-Royce Phantom, that included parts as varied as 3D printed hazard-warning light holders, center lock buttons, electronic parking brakes and sockets. This year’s model of the Rolls-Royce Dawn will be using 3D printed mounting brackets for wires, hoses and fiber-optic cables, and they expect to instal thousands of them throughout the production cycle. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ parent company BMW expects to begin rapidly expanding the use of advanced 3D printed parts across their entire range of vehicles.
“Additive technologies will be one of the main production methods of the future for the BMW Group, with promising potential. The integration of additively-manufactured components into Rolls-Royce series production is another important milestone for us on the road to using this method on a large-scale. By utilising new technologies, we will be able to shorten production times further in the future and increasingly exploit the potential of tool-less manufacturing methods,” said the BMW Groups head of Production Strategy, Technical Integration, Udo Hänle.
According to BMW, the advantages of using 3D printed parts became visible early on in the process, especially when it came to the production of components with complex geometries. They were able to manufacture parts significantly faster than using traditional production methods, and were able to do so while maintaining their high quality standards. In fact, many of the parts that were manufactured for the Phantom, and now the Dawn, were simply impossible to producing using conventional manufacturing technologies. As BMW starts to expand the use of additive manufacturing, they are focusing on cutting-edge planar 3D printing technologies.
HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers are just one of several additive manufacturing processes that use planar technology, which is the use of infrared light to cure and harden 3D printing materials. However unlike similar processes like stereolithography, planar technologies use beamers or infrared projectors to cure a full layer at one time, which dramatically speeds up the production of the 3D printed parts. This ability to rapidly manufacture components not only speeds up the time it takes to produce the parts and assemble the cars, but it increases their ability to be flexible with the design of those parts. As cars are being manufactured, the 3D printed parts can actually be changed to either refine the design or compensate for any unseen issues encountered during assembly.
“Planar technologies are central to the use of additive processes in series production. The most recent example can be found in the preliminary trials of the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. The process will initially be used in prototyping, but we plan to extend it into series production over the long term,” explained the head of BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Centre, Jens Ertel.
Currently, the Additive Manufacturing Centre team manages more than 25,000 orders for 3D printed prototypes, and they manufacture more than 100,000 components for multiple divisions within the BMW Group each year. They also use 3D printing to produce custom manufacturing equipment and specialized tooling for vehicle assembly lines. They have also been using additive manufacturing to produce custom or short-run components since 2010 when they 3D printed a water pump wheel that is still used in their DTM silhouette racing cars. Depending on the application being used, the Additive Manufacturing Centre team typically is able to manufacture parts as varied as design samples, small plastic holders, metal chassis components and prototypes for functional testing in a matter of days. Discuss further over in the BMW Using 3D Printed Parts forum over at 3DPB.com.