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By A.J. Roan
Metal Tech News 

Volkswagen forges ahead with 3D printing

Leading carmaker goes all-in with future manufacturing tech Metal Tech News – June 23, 2021


Last updated 6/29/2021 at 4:53pm

Volkswagen Group VW metal 3D binder jetting printing Seimens HP Autostadt

Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen's Autostadt – which means Automobile City – is a visitor attraction adjacent to the German automaker's main facility in Wolfsburg that also houses the 3D printing center.

Volkswagen Group is forging ahead with the use of innovative 3D printers in its production of vehicles, intending to use metal binder jetting to manufacture components at the company's main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany.

"Despite the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, we're continuing to work on innovation," said Christian Vollmer, a member of Volkswagen's board of management responsible for production and logistics. "Together with our partners, we aim to make 3D printing even more efficient in the years ahead and suitable for production-line use."

To achieve this innovative advance, Volkswagen has invested somewhere in the 50-million-euro range over the past five years. Additionally, the company has entered into a software partnership with Seimens AG and expanded its existing collaboration with printer manufacturer Hewlett Packard Inc.

With the first full-scale use of binder jetting, the intention is to acquire experience and learn which components can be produced economically and quickly in the future and how additive manufacturing can support the digital transformation of production at Volkswagen.

"We are very proud to support Volkswagen with our innovative 3D printing solutions," said Cedrik Neike, a member of the managing board of Seimens AG and CEO of digital industries. "Our automation and software solutions are leading in industrial production applications. Using this technology, Volkswagen will be able to develop and produce components faster, more flexibly, and using fewer resources."

What separates this technology from other additive manufacturing methods, as conventional 3D printing uses a laser to build components layer by layer from metallic powder, binder jetting uses an adhesive.

The resulting metallic component is then heated and shaped. The use of binder jetting reduces costs and increases productivity.

Parts produced with binder jetting metal 3D printing also have the advantage of weighing only about half as much as those made from sheet steel.

Currently, Volkswagen is the only carmaker using this method of 3D printing technology in the production process.

The future of AM

In 2017, the world's automakers spent a combined $1.1 billion on additive manufacturing, and it is estimated that by 2028, the total will reach $12.6 billion.

With Volkswagen holding the position of world's largest automotive manufacturer, at nearly 10 million vehicles sold globally in 2020, the company is no stranger to additive manufacturing.

As a pioneer of the use of AM technology among automakers, Volkswagen debuted 3D printing at one of its manufacturing plants in Portugal in 2014 and by 2017, had seven 3D printers mass producing more than 1,000 parts each year, cutting production costs on those parts by upwards of 97%.

Volkswagen Group VW metal 3D binder jetting printing Seimens HP Autostadt

Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen employees check the quality of structural parts produced using the binder jetting process for car production in front of the prototype of the special printer at the high-tech 3D printing center in Wolfsburg.

In September 2018, HP announced a new metallic 3D printing technology that is 50 times more productive than other printing techniques, delivering lower costs and higher quality products. The next day, VW announced its collaboration with HP and auto supplier GKN Powder Metallurgy that it would be the first auto manufacturer to use the HP Metal Jet process to produce 100,000 metal units per year in 2-3 years with this latest technology.

That goal has not changed, from the most recent announcement, the three companies – VW, Seimens, and HP – intend to establish a joint expert team at the high-tech 3D printing center at Volkswagen's Autostadt, which opened in Wolfsburg at the end of 2018 to enable the manufacturing of complex automotive components using 3D printing.

While VW management has set short-term goals to incorporate this incredible technology, the longer-term scale benefits remain to be seen. While 100 thousand units appears like a significant number in the short term, but it represents less than 0.0001% of the parts going into VW vehicles annually.

While a complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, the number and size of parts from those printers will increase significantly.


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