Big companies such as BMW and Rolls Royce are putting the 3D printer into good use. In fact, the Rolls Royce Phantom already features over 10,000 additively manufactured parts; while BMW, an early user of the 3D printer, who has previously used 3D printing for prototyping purposes is now putting it to work in serial production showcasing its technology and abilities. Companies such as Carbon and HP are working to invent state of the art 3D printers and BMW is quick to grab its chances and use this technology to stay ahead of the game and manufacture better cars.
ENGINEERING.com went to Jens Ertel, who was the head of BMW Group’s AMC (the Additive Manufacturing Center) at the company’s Research and Innovation Center to get his take on rapid prototyping and its use to BMW.
BMW and 3D Printing
This automotive industry has been using and relying on this technique to manufacture predevelopment models for vehicle validation and testing concept cars and show cars for over two decades. BMW progressed with its 3D printing from using it to just a prototype process, to an additive manufacturing technology, because they realized it would be a helpful method for their product portfolio. They moved on to research further to search where else they could put it to use and given today’s technology and improvements it was an easy task making it of use in other places.
Ertel explained that BMW has been using Metal 3D printing for more than a decade even though it is not a very old technique. This experience gives them time tested expertise with metal 3D printing which they have been using for functional testing of metal components on their test vehicles. This testing experience and knowledge gave them confidence to start early with serial production using 3D printers.
In 2010, BMW released its first 3D printed series, the much celebrated water thrust wheel that was 3D printed, which is still being factory-made for the renowned Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters racecars to this date. According to Ertel, BMW at present manufactures water pump wheels for Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters racecars, a high- precision component using 3D printers. They have produced about 650 of these until now, all composed of aluminum alloy and all have proven their worth in the automotive industry for both the water pump along with additive printing.
A manufacturer as big as BMW has started using rapid prototyping not only for the sake of change, but also because it is ideal to produce geometrically complex machinery, which they may not be able to manufacture using different methods at the same scale or quality. Ertel also added that 3D printing as a manufacturing process is efficient and ideal for small batches of products. He goes into detail by saying that additive manufacturing allows the involvement of design rectification in a six-bladed centrifugal thrust wheel, which would need a lot more effort with different methods of manufacturing. This new technique made it possible to obtain proper aerodynamics of the components for the DTM race series. Also not many tools or hardware are required which makes it more ideal and cost effective to work with. On top of all this rapid prototyping makes sure the dimension and accuracy of the products stay constant and up-to-date.
Rolls Royce and 3D Printing
BMW started making 3D printed parts for Rolls Royce Phantom during 2012 which included plastic holders for hazard warning lights, electronic parking brakes and sockets and center lock buttons. Ever since then BMW has been making 3D printed mounting brackets for fiber optic cables in the latest Rolls-Royce Dawn and will be installing many thousands of these clips all throughout the series.
BMW uses 3D printing to manufacture these clips because they believe it retains the intricacy of the designs, reduces production time all the while maintaining quality standards. Even though they can be produced using other methods, Ertel says they would shift to 3D printing as the outcomes are not compromised.
Future of 3D Printing
BMW, one of the first customers of Carbon and HP believes that Carbon and HP provides high speed with low cost for the rapid prototyping process and that it is highly essential for the production of their end parts.
CLIP 3D printing, otherwise known as Carbon’s continuous liquid interference production is capable of additive printing in only minutes, using a digital light processing projector throwing UV light through an optical window that is oxygen-permeable, directly onto a container of branded photosensitive resin. The optical window allows the system to fix the photo polymers much faster and is hence possible to print isotropic parts where the physical properties remain the same. Going over the fixing process once more makes the end product more durable and overall makes them as close as injection-molded parts rather than regular 3D printed objects.
CLIP 3D printing has already been used by BMW to create customized side indicators for their new ride sharing plan called “DriveNow”
HP on the other hand has been using MJF to create a combo of infrared fusion and binder jetting to manufacture objects. 30 million drops of fusing and detailing inks are sent down per second by the print head on a bed of powder after which a set of infrared lamps pass over and connects the fusing agents to create the object.
According to Ertel, both CLIP and MJF will aid in increasing production while saving time and cost making it more efficient. In contrast to conventional 3D printing these two methods will prove to be much more economical in the rapid prototyping industry.
Lastly Ertel adds that CLIP and MJF are only the recent technologies BMW has been using, but it will continue to use whatever new forms of 3D printing that surface. They will be able to shorten production times and manufacturing without the use of a hundred different tools. Until then they will continue to use CLIP and MJF and continue to create milestones.
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