Desktop 3D Printing on the Automotive Assembly Line — A Few Questions For: Volkswagen Autoeuropa

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[Image: Volkswagen Autoeuropa]

3D printing has its roots in rapid prototyping, and the technology remains a key resource for those looking to cut time and costs in bringing new products to market. The resource-cutting benefits extend far beyond iterative creation, though, as more businesses across a variety of industries are increasingly seeing. One big area benefiting lately from bringing additive manufacturing into the workflow is the automotive industry. While 3D printing has some large-scale applications in vehicle development, bigger isn’t always better — as one global auto producer is seeing through the use of desktop 3D printers.

This week, Ultimaker announced that Portugal-based Volkswagen Autoeuropa has turned to desktop 3D printing to create custom tools for automotive manufacturing. Volkswagen Autoeuropa employs a workstation stocked with Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 3 machines, and the 3D printers have already proven their value to the process, the company reports.

This 3D printed wheel protection jig was previously sourced for €800, but can now be printed at just €21. Tool development time has shrunk from 56 to 10 days.

By the numbers:

  • 1,000 — parts designed and 3D printed last year using Ultimaker 3D printing technology
  • 4,000 — employees at Volkswagen Autoeuropa
  • 100,000 — cars produced annually at the manufacturing plant
  • 100% — return on investment (ROI) realized within two months of implementing the Ultimaker 3D printers
  • €150,000 — cost savings in 2016
  • €250,000 — expected 2017 cost savings

“Since we have integrated Ultimaker’s 3D printing technology into our process, 93 percent of what we previously sourced externally is produced in-house. In addition to the time and cost savings we realize, the tools we output are more complex and ergonomic – and, ultimately, far more useful in our day-to-day operations because they are tailored to our needs,” said Luis Pascoa, Pilot Plant Manager, Volkswagen Autoeuropa.

By bringing the creation of customized tools in-house, Volkswagen Autoeuropa has removed the need for external vendors — and the savings in terms of both time and money are substantial as engineers and line technicians are that much closer to always having the perfect tool at hand for every job., as the below video illustrates.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa creates cars such as the Scirocco and Sharan, and the 3D printed manufacturing aids produced have immediate benefits right on the assembly line. Third party companies that had been supplying gauges, jigs, and fixtures for the company had previously required weeks to design, mock-up, and manufacture the tools; bringing design and creation to an in-plant workstation dropped that lead time from weeks to days, keeping productivity up.

“The automotive industry has been a pioneer in the use of additive manufacturing to drive efficiencies, and Volkswagen Autoeuropa is a prime example of this type of forward-looking approach. We have seen on average a reduction of tool lead time from sixty to just six days, which dramatically increases productivity for manufacturers like Volkswagen,” said Ultimaker CEO Jos Burger.

Volkswagen Autoeuropa first turned to 3D printing in 2014, when it validated the concept. Today, seven Ultimaker 3D printers are in operation, creating a large majority of their externally manufactured tools in-house. Ultimaker’s 3D printers, particularly the Ultimaker 3, were designed with professional users in mind, as the company has told us before. Looking now to the customer to gain more insights into this particular use case, I had A Few Questions For Volkswagen Autoeuropa, as Pilot Plant Manager Luis Pascoa thoughtfully provides additional details.

What makes a desktop 3D printer a valuable tool for an automaker?

“Automotive companies like Volkswagen Autoeuropa find value in using 3D printing to create, for example, 3D printed manufacturing aids for the assembly line. The main benefit 3D printing can offer in custom tool-building is that virtually any design can be made, at great speed and low costs. 3D printing offers the opportunity to achieve better tools with a greater fit and improved ergonomics, all at a fraction of the costs of outsourcing to third party suppliers. In industries where production efficiency is a high priority, 3D printing proves to be a superior alternative to third-party sourcing. In the case of Volkswagen Autoeuropa, this meant they covered their initial investment in Ultimaker 3D printers within just 2 months.”

How did Ultimaker and Volkswagen Autoeuropa come together?

Filkemp introduced Ultimaker to Volkswagen Autoeuropa, who was already 3D printing. Volkswagen Autoeuropa and Ultimaker had several strategy meetings to determine the goals and planning for their partnership and currently have monthly calls with engineers from Volkswagen Autoeuropa and Ultimaker to find applications and share knowledge about materials, software, and settings to create the perfect print.”

This window gauge used to cost €180 per part – it can now be 3D printed at just €35. Development time shrunk from 8 to 6 days.

What materials are most commonly used in tool production applications?

“3D printed tools, jigs, and fixtures are typically made from Nylon and PLA. TPU is also used for flexible material. The wheel protection jig that’s highlighted throughout the Volkswagen Autoeuropa case, for example, consists of flexible components that prevent the wheel cap from being scratched when inserting screws.”

This liftgate badge took 35 days in development time when sourced externally and used to cost €400. With 3D printing, the project was completed in 4 days and the costs reduced to €10 a part.

How does the openness of materials usable on Ultimaker 3D printers benefit Volkswagen Autoeuropa?

“Ultimaker’s open filament system allows Volkswagen Autoeuropa to be flexible in experimenting with different materials from different suppliers. This allows them to test a wide array of available materials for different applications. Since Volkswagen Autoeuropa is continuously looking for new applications for 3D printing and 3D printing materials, this flexibility in material usage is highly valued in the production facility.”

What has the learning curve been like at Volkswagen Autoeuropa getting acquainted with Cura and with the 3D printers?

“Ultimaker has a very accessible printer and easy to use software. Volkswagen Autoeuropa engineers could start a print right after unboxing the printer. Later on, the Volkswagen Autoeuropa engineers changed standard settings and combined materials like Nylon and TPU to print specific applications. The vision of Ultimaker is to make 3D printing accessible and easy to use and give its customers the tools and freedom to make alterations for specific applications and purposes when they need that.”

Discuss in the Volkswagen Autoeuropa forum at 3DPB.com.

[Images/Captions: Ultimaker]

 

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