3D printing within the automobile industry is nothing new. In fact, automakers have been using the technology for over 25 years, in one form or another. Recently, however, these manufacturers have been taking things up a notch.
In that past year alone, we have seen Local Motors 3D print an entire vehicle, as well as other announcements coming from car manufacturers around the world, showing off the fact that they have begun to use the technology to create parts for their vehicles. We’ve even seen an incredible 3D printed working replica of the famed Shelby Cobra come into existence.
BMW is no stranger to 3D printing. Whether it is creating protective thumb covers for its workers or showing off future 3D printable concept cars, it is no secret that the company has taken a strong interest in the technology. The facts are though, that BMW has actually been using 3D printing since 1991 for prototyping a variety of parts.
As the current season of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) starts up, BMW has announced that they will be celebrating the 500th water pump wheel to be 3D printed and fitted to one of their car’s powertrains. This part is fabricated using selective laser melting (SLM) technology, which basically builds the object up from layers of fine powder. 0.05mm layers of powder are laid down on the machine’s print bed as a laser sinters (melts) it into the correct shape. After each layer is sintered, another 0.05mm of powder is applied on top, before the process repeats itself over and over again until a final product is manufactured. When complete, the aluminum water pump wheel is removed from its surrounding powder and is just about ready to be placed innto the powertrain of one of BMW’s DTM race cars.
Back in 2010, BMW realized that something needed to be done with their multi-pieced water pump wheels which were assembled with plastic parts. With their DTM race vehicles featuring high-performance powertrains, which run up to 70% of the time under full load, they elected to create a single-piece lightweight metal water pump wheel as a replacement. In doing so, 3D printing via SLM technology seemed to be the best method of production.
3D printing has allowed BMW to keep both costs and supply chains down. It also allows for quick iteration of the water pump wheels, as well as customization on a race-to-race basis if desired. Without the need for production molds, the costs to modify the part is next to nothing. This method of production is currently being used for water pump wheels on BMW’s DTM race cars as well as their Z4 GT3 customer vehicles.
BMW is one of the leaders within the 3D printing space when it comes to the production of automobile parts. It should be interesting to follow them closely over the next few years as 3D printing gains even more traction. What do you think about BMW’s use of 3D Printing? Discuss in the 3D Printed Water Pump Wheel forum thread on 3DPB.com.