In 2017, German companies Audi AG, a premium automobile manufacturer, and additive manufacturing solutions provider EOS announced that they were joining together in a development partnership focused on metal 3D printing. The relationship began in 2016, and EOS offered both its technology and expertise to support Audi in implementing AM technology into its business, before and during construction of the automaker’s Metal 3D Printing Centre in Ingolstadt, Germany. The partnership between the two is still going strong, as Audi recently announced that it will be increasing its use of EOS’s metal 3D printing for tool segment production applications.
“From initial qualification by EOS to internal further development and refinement of the entire process chain through to standardisation of a new production method, we are now reaping the fruits of years of development within Audi’s production organisation,” stated Matthias Herker, Technical Project Manager at the Audi Metal 3D Printing Centre. “Whenever conventional manufacturing methods reach their limit, we use Additive Manufacturing – which lets us meet quality standards and comply with production times.”
Audi uses metal 3D printing, specifically the EOS M 400 3D printer, to fabricate a total of twelve segments from four tools for hot forming—an industrial metal modification process where metal is bent, flattened, or stretched at temperatures higher than 600°C to make the material stronger and less susceptible to corrosion. The tool segments themselves are used in its press shop to make body panels for car models, such as the Audi A4 and, in the future, electric vehicles. Thanks to its continued relationship with EOS, Audi now plans to 3D print even more segments for its hot forming tools.
The automaker says that it’s important to move some of the production of its tool segments from conventional to additive manufacturing, due to the technology’s freedom of design, high quality, reliability, and speed.
Audi’s design department in Ingolstadt is able to create large tools measuring up to 5 x 3 m for hot forming segments and high-pressure die casting tool inserts, while the individual 3D printed tool segments, weighing in at up to 120 kg, are 400 mm long. When fabricating tool segments of this complexity and size, it’s not out of the ordinary for production to take up to twenty days. But 3D printing can speed the process up without skimping on quality, and the technology can also be used to fabricate complex cooling channels that are specifically configured for tool segment components, making cooling a more even process—critically important for series production.
Since first partnering with EOS, Audi has developed what it considers an “ideal application” for series vehicles hot forming, and supposedly, several hundred thousand 3D printed parts already reside in selected Audi models.
“The latest examples show that 3D printing has become an established part of operating materials production at Audi. We’re especially proud that the tool segments made using AM are created exclusively using an industrial 3D printer from EOS,” said Markus Glasser, senior vice president EMEA at EOS. “Audi is a partner we can work with to continue to drive the use of AM in automotive production – a key industry for us.”
(Source: Metal AM Magazine)
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