3-D printing: A tool for production

Worker using the Ultimaker 3.Interest from manufacturers and big chemical companies shows that 3-D printing isn’t just for hobbyists

t its Autoeuropa factory in Portugal, where it assembles 100,000 cars a year, Volkswagen has deployed a fleet of desktop three-dimensional printers made by the Dutch firm Ultimaker. Last year, the machines printed more than 1,000 plastic tools and fixtures Volkswagen needed around the plant. One example is a plastic jig that workers place over the wheel so they can tighten lug nuts without scratching the rim.

Previously, Volkswagen had to rely on third parties, such as machine shops, to fabricate such parts. Between sending the design out, waiting for delivery, and testing, the process for making a simple object like a window alignment gauge could take 60 days. With 3-D printing, workers have the parts in their hands in less than a week.

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