While many automotive manufacturers have been using 3D printing in their design and manufacturing processes, BMW has been a leader in the field, using the technology for over 25 years. The company has used 3D printing for everything from roof racks to more advanced concepts. There are plenty of reasons for BMW and other automotive manufacturers to turn to 3D printing, like time and cost savings and the ability to produce lightweight, efficient, complex parts, but there are also some benefits of 3D printing that are simply fun, like customization.
BMW’s new MINI can be customized for users in a multitude of different ways, such as 3D printed patterns, pictures, shapes, and letters on the dashboard and glove box. You can even request an LED light that projects your name on the street when you get out of the car, according to BMW. The company is the first to take automotive personalization to this level, and it’s doing so with the help of Twikit, a Belgian company whose software platform emphasizes 3D printed customization possibilities.
BMW MINI customers can design their own customized cars online, and the digital files are sent to the production facility, where they are manufactured using 3D printing, laser cutting and other advanced technologies.
“Twikit technology was a bull’s eye right from the start,” said Twikit Co-Founder Gijs Hoppenbrouwers. “Since its foundation, we have been working with major players in various industries. Innovative players in the medical industry can now use our technology to make prostheses and orthoses on a large scale quickly. Customization for a mass audience is also perfectly possible for jewellery, furniture, windows and doors, electronics, … Companies discover that they can personalize products with modern, high-tech production techniques such as 3D printing and laser cutting, tailored to each individual customer.”
Twikit was founded in 2012 by Hoppenbrouwers, Martijn Joris and George Lieben. The company now has 33 employees and is becoming active worldwide, particularly in Europe and the United States. Besides working with BMW, Twikit also offers its personalized production services for prosthetics and orthotics, jewelry, electronics, windows and doors, and more. The company prides itself on being able to help companies smoothly and seamlessly bring together multiple digital production techniques such as 3D printing, CNC machining and laser cutting.
Will automotive customization catch on? We’ll have to wait and see. Will people value their own personal touches so much that they’ll be willing to pay €119 to have LED lights announce their presence any time they leave their car? Most people will likely still be swayed more by things like advanced safety features and seat warmers, but some certainly will be attracted to such customization offerings, and Hoppenbrouwers believes that many people will – that the future will be personalized.
“More and more products resemble each other, and not only in the automotive sector,” he said. “Allowing customers to personalize products is a way to stand out from the competition. The possibilities are endless. We reconcile production on a large scale with the desire of people to still have a unique product.”
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