BMW Sees ‘Major Potential’ in 3D Printing
BMW is marking the 25th anniversary of the introduction of additive manufacturing at the company. The additive manufacturing methods, which are becoming more well known under the collective term of ‘3D printing’, are said to be among the key production methods of the future.
“Components made with additive manufacturing give us a lot of freedom in the forming process; they can be produced both quickly and in appropriate quality. We see major potential for the future application in series production as well as for new customer offerings, such as personalised vehicle parts, or the spare parts supply,” explains BMW’s head of production strategy, Udo Haenle.
In the long term, BMW says customers will be provided with the option of having individual vehicle components made according to their personal preferences.
“The targeted use of innovative additive procedures at an early stage has made us one of the pioneers and leaders in 3D printing over the past years. At the BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, Silicon Valley/USA, we are now even conducting a first test run with the new CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology,” adds Haenle. As a beamer is used for the exposure of the surfaces, CLIP is claimed to be considerably faster than previous methods.
As early as 1990, the BMW Group’s Rapid Technologies Center commissioned the development of the first facilities and from 1991 on, the first prototype parts were produced on the company’s own stereolithography machine. In the beginning, the additively produced parts were mostly used for concept cars but developed further for additional purposes over the years. Depending on the component specifications, BMW applies different procedures and materials.
Today, additive manufacturing methods are most commonly applied in areas that frequently require small batches of customised and sometimes also very complex components, such as pre-development, vehicle validation and testing, and concept cars. But also toolmaking, or operating resources are main application areas.
Besides using additive manufacturing for new vehicles, an interesting area of application for the technology is in BMW classic cars. Especially when it comes to very old collector’s vehicles, a component might be scanned three-dimensional in order to generate a digital data set. Owing to this reverse engineering method, it is possible to generate previously unavailable components for the spare parts production.
BMW has also applied its 3D printing know-how in other, non-automotive fields. One such example is what the Rapid Technologies Center produced for the British Paralympics basketball team in 2012. Based on 3D body scans of the team members, customised wheelchair seats for each player were made. Compared to conventionally made seats, the seats were lighter and also a better fit for the athletes, an advantage for the players.
In mid-2014, BMW also introduced a 3D-printed ergonomic tool in the vehicle assembly that protects workers against excess strains on the thumb joints while carrying out certain assembly activities. Each of these flexible assembly devices is a single piece, customised to match the form and size of a specific worker’s hand.
Another development has been the application of additive manufacturing methods for metal parts, which allows for new solutions and is already used in small series production. For several years now, BMW has equipped their DTM racecars with water pump wheels made with 3D printing. The 500th 3D-printed water pump wheel was fitted in April of this year.
The team of the Rapid Technologies Center at the BMW Group’s Research and Innovation Center (FIZ) in Munich claims to work on close to 25,000 prototype requests annually, producing some 100,000 components a year for in-house customers. Parts range from small plastic carriers to design samples and chassis components for functional tests. Depending on the procedure and the size of the component, BMW says sample parts are made available within only a few days.