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BMW’s €650M EV Retooling Brings Opportunities for 3D Printing

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BMW plans to invest €650 million in converting its Munich car plant for electric vehicle production. This move is part of the global trend towards electrifying plants and vehicle fleets. At this facility, BMW aims to manufacture the Neue Klasse by 2026, a new line of electric vehicles emphasizing design and human-centric features. Given the “tool-less” nature of additive manufacturing (AM) massive effort will open up numerous opportunities for the use of 3D printing as the plant is retooled.

“The Munich plant is an excellent example of our ability to adapt. We are investing € 650 million here and will produce exclusively all-electric vehicles in our parent plant from the end of 2027. Last year alone, six all-electric models went into production. At the same time, we also set a production record, proving that we are simultaneously able to both deliver and shape the future in our production network,” stated Milan Nedeljković, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, Production.

“Munich is the beating heart of BMW. The plant in Munich is innovative and adaptable. As in the 1960s, a Neue Klasse is again laying the foundation, on which our plant is reinventing itself. The fact that this comprehensive transformation is taking place at the same time as roughly 1,000 vehicles per day are currently being manufactured is common practice in Munich and is possible thanks to the outstanding performance of all our employees. We are delighted to be guiding the Munich plant into a fully-electric future – starting with the Neue Klasse sedan,” said Peter Weber, Director BMW Group Plant Munich.

BMW’s decision to fully transition its main facility to electric vehicle production represents a significant gamble. This shift could potentially disrupt current deliveries and future vehicle programs if delays occur. The enormity of this undertaking is evident in the above video showcasing one of the Munich plant’s production lines. Additionally, a Google Maps view reveals the extensive nature of the site, which encompasses various production areas, the group’s headquarters, a museum, and the M class production facilities.

The Munich main plant is a pivotal site for BMW, employing 7,800 people and responsible for producing the 3 Series among other models. This facility is not only the heart of BMW but also traditionally the hub of engine production, playing a significant role in the company’s origins and various growth phases.

3D Printing Opportunities for BMW’s Munich Site

BMW is already a long-time user of AM technologies, not only acquiring the latest system when it is released but also investing in 3D printing startups. It is also one of the most public adopters of AM for end part production. In 2018, BMW Group celebrated surpassing one million 3D printed automotive components.

More recently, the auto giant has engaged in numerous projects related to automation of the technology for end-part production. BMW’s Landshut plant partnered with Loramendi and voxeljet to automate the 3D printing of large-scale sand cores for casting cylinder heads. As part of the the Industrialization and Digitalization of Additive Manufacturing (IDAM) initiative, the car company successfully implemented two fully automated 3D printed automotive production lines using laser powder bed fusion platforms, AI, and robotics, capable of producing 50,000 series parts a year. IDAM was executed in parallel with the POLYLINE project, dedicated to polymer 3D printed parts.

BMW’s AM-centered automated production line, developed as part of IDAM. Image courtesy of BMW Press

There’s already significant reason to believe that the Munich project will involve AM. The Munich facility is set to undergo significant changes with the introduction of a new production line and a body shop. As part of this transformation, 1,200 employees have been retrained or will need to be relocated. Additionally, BMW will implement the BMW iFACTORY system, which emphasizes leaner, more digital, and flexible manufacturing processes. This system allows for the production of various models on the same line, enhancing the facility’s environmental sustainability. The digital element of this process will hopefully mean the firm can do more accurate production with fewer efforts through the use of extensive monitoring and training.

The integration of digital efforts with 3D printing at BMW’s Munich facility dovetails with the broader trend of digital transformation in manufacturing. The adoption of a ‘Digital Twin’ approach, where the physical aspects of the plant are mirrored in a digital format, greatly facilitates the implementation of 3D printing solutions. For instance, if there’s a need for a custom part to repair equipment, or even for something as specific as adding braille to door handles and drawers, the process becomes much more straightforward. The digital models allow for quick design and production of these parts, reducing both time and cost.

Moreover, with detailed digital files of work areas, procedures, and ancillary parts, BMW can easily create new jigs and other tools as needed. The digitization not only streamlines the manufacturing process but also enables greater flexibility and responsiveness to specific needs or changes in the production line. Overall, BMW’s complete digitization significantly enhances the likelihood of the company increasingly relying on 3D printing for not just standard production processes, but also for more improvised and bespoke work in the future.

The comprehensive retooling of BMW’s production processes, especially in areas like batteries, connectors, chassis parts, and components, opens up numerous opportunities for the integration of AM in production. With the significant investment in new tooling, there’s a conducive environment for exploring 3D printed alternatives for traditional manufacturing tools such as molds, stamping tools, dies, and injection molding tools.

In scenarios where BMW is building or restructuring its production processes from the ground up, 3D printing often presents a cost-effective and efficient solution. It tends to be in established environments, where processes and tools are already tried and true, that 3D printing faces more challenges in replacing conventional methods. However, given BMW’s ambitious overhaul and its focus on innovation and digitization, there are substantial opportunities for 3D printing to play a significant role.

The Larger Context

This transformation of BMW’s Munich facility, given its importance and proximity to other core functions and personnel, is indeed a daunting task. It’s not just a simple retooling; this move signifies a philosophical rebirth for the company as it transitions from a traditional car firm to an electric car firm. BMW faces the challenge of transposing its culture, values, and “built for drivers” brand ethos into the realm of electric vehicles. The stakes are high, especially since BMW has distinguished itself with its engines, drivability, sportiness, and luxury.

The transition to electric vehicles is arguably more complex for BMW than for brands like Honda or Toyota. While the Japanese brands focus on replicating their values of reliability and value in the electric vehicle market—a tough but straightforward task—BMW faces a unique set of challenges. The brand needs to redefine what makes an electric car fun to drive, how to deliver a sporty driving experience in a performance electric vehicle, and how to make its speed feel sportier despite the universally high torque of electric cars.

As BMW announces the end of combustion automobile production in Munich by 2027, the sentiment accompanying this shift is likely more poignant than for a brand like Kia. For BMW, it’s not just about adopting new technology, but about reinventing the essence of what makes a BMW distinctive in a completely new context.

Currently, half of all BMW’s production is electric, indicating significant progress made at the Debrecen, Hungary plant and other facilities. Plans are in place for the company’s plants in Shenyang, China and San Luis Potosí, Mexico to follow suit. BMW’s commitment to its Munich location is a positive development for Germany, especially in the context of recent geopolitical events.

This move comes at a crucial time when the country’s manufacturing sector faces challenges, particularly in light of its foreign policy approach towards Russia. Germany’s strategy, which involved relying heavily on Russian energy under the assumption that this would lead to a more placid relationship, has been perceived as somewhat naive, especially in the context of recent geopolitical developments. The situation for Germany is like a hostage with a gun to their head declaring about his captor, “I have him exactly where I want him.” BMW’s decision to double down on its Munich facility is indeed a positive development for Germany.

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