How major automakers use AM for production today, part 5: BMW additive manufacturing

During this month’s AM Focus Automotive, we are mapping out the most accurate and up to date scenario for automotive additive manufacturing in final part production. We present an analysis of the latest progress made by each major automaker group and some of the key activities—either publicly disclosed or confirmed by reliable sources. Here’s a look at BMW additive manufacturing. In the previous episodes, we looked at VolkswagenGeneral MotorsDaimler Benz and Ford. Still upcopming: PSA, FCA and JLR.

BMW Vision iNext

Since “coming out” officially as a major AM adopter in 2016, BMW Group continued to announce major initiatives in AM for part production. They were consolidated in the Additive Manufacturing Campus, located in Oberschleissheim, just north of Munich. BMW is known to also rely on external AM parts providers for SLS and SLA (Figure 4) parts production, such as 3D Systems’ On Demand Advanced AM Center near Turin, in Northern Italy.

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EOS consulting division helps Daimler subsidiary implement 3D printing strategy to meet inventory challenges

Flexibility in production: Thanks to 3D printing, spare parts, e.g. for the interior of buses, can be produced quickly and cost-efficiently. (Source: Daimler Buses, EOS)

EvoBus GmbH, a subsidiary of the Daimler Group, is one of the leading manufacturers in the global omnibus segment. In order to continue expanding its pioneering role in times of increasing competitive pressure, EvoBus is pursuing two strategic aims: sustainably increase its profitability and enhance its capacity to innovate. In particular, EvoBus needs to find an answer to the growing challenges in the field of Customer Services & Parts (CSP). Daimler Buses sees additive manufacturing as a key tool in reaching these targets. In order to successfully integrate industrial 3D printing within its organization, Daimler Buses decided to rely on the expertise of Additive Minds, the consulting division of EOS, right from the early project phase. The team of experts at EOS specializes in leading customers through the various development phases of additive manufacturing.

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Formula One and FIA use additive manufacturing to test 2021 car

Formula One (F1), the premier world championship for motor racing and its governing body the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), have used additive manufacturing to help determine the design, rules and regulations of its 2021 cars. 

The 50% scale F1 2021 model in Sauber's wind tunnel testing facility. Photo via Formula 1.

Each F1 season, the FIA issues new regulations for vehicles participating in the championship. The new rules are tested using prototype car models implemented. Last month, the 2021 vehicle underwent extensive wind tunnel testing using an accurate, 50 percent scale model produced with the help of additive manufacturing.

The wind tunnel tests were performed by an independent consultancy group from Sauber, a Swiss motorsport engineering company, using its own wind tunnel facility. The use of additive manufacturing to create the scale models delivered a number of benefits to the development team. Pat Symonds, F1’s Chief Technical Officer, stated “50% is a good compromise in that we can still get a good level of detail on the model but we still have distance behind. It’s true teams have tended to go more to 60% these days.” 

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How 3D printing is changing production models

Additive manufacturing is no longer just for prototypes. Its increasing popularity and technical capabilities have pushed it into position to change the way manufacturers manage their spare parts inventory.

No matter how technologies change, or what new innovations break into the mainstream, the basic goals of manufacturing remain the same: Reduce unplanned downtime, reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary waste, etc. How fortunate it is that 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is one of those cool, innovative technologies that is finding itself a very nice spot in the realm of day-to-day cost and time savings. Not only can it be used to produce interesting and previously impossible designs, it has also become a useful way to change spare parts management.

When a system goes down, making the repairs needed to get it back up and running can be time-consuming. Even more so if the part that needs replacing is no longer readily available. With the right program in place, additive manufacturing can build that part on demand—whether through reverse engineering, digital files from the component supplier, or perhaps through the supplier itself.

In recent years, advances in the printing technology, in the materials that can be used, and the software control of the end-to-end workflow have fundamentally changed the way parts can be made with additive manufacturing, says John Nanry, co-founder and chief product officer at Fast Radius, which provides 3D printing services.

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Who will make the most automotive AM end-use parts and where?

SmarTech Analysis just released a new report on automotive additive manufacturing. This new edition follows the report published compiled last year, however, this is not just a new and updated edition. It is an entirely new report, which, for the first time, moves entirely away from AM for prototypes to focus exclusively on automotive AM end-use parts production, which is now fully within reach and is going to enable additive manufacturing to finally scale up.

The term “end-use parts” is used in the report to indicate both final automotive parts and tools (and tools include molds, dies, jigs and fixtures as well as custom assembly tools) used in the automotive production process.

The depth of automotive AM end-use parts

In order to provide new and more detailed information in its forecasts, the report leverages data from SmarTech’s unique and industry-leading database and dissects into more segments. These include two key areas: one is geographic, with country-specific forecasts. The other is relative to the supply chain, trying to answer the question that most automakers are asking themselves: where is the money coming from (that will drive AM adoption in the automotive industry)?

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Benefits of 3D printing in the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry has always had a longstanding relationship with 3D printing and technology in general. Automotive companies that are seemingly successful, have been known over the years to experiment with various 3D printing technology and applications, which has consequently had a considerable influence on the supply chain as well as on product development. Smaller automotive manufacturers, especially, have benefited from the use of 3D printing and have included it as a critical component of their production owing to its many advantages.

In recent times, the automotive industry outdated the predominant use of prototyping applications for purposes of additive engineering into the end-use invention. The flexible nature of the technology and the extensive design freedom offered to car manufacturers has led to the creation of new and cutting-edge designs, therefore revolutionizing the entire automotive industry.

Benefits of 3D printing in the automotive industry

Additive manufacturing is a wide-ranging term that refers to a series of processes that allows the creation of parts and components in an additive instead of a subtractive manner. What this means is that car components are created layer by layer rather than having material extracted from a large block. This technique and approach, as well as the technologies used, come with numerous advantages that are hard to find in conventional manufacturing processes. The benefits of using 3D printing in the car industry include:

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Benefits of 3D printing in the automotive industry

The automotive industry has always had a longstanding relationship with 3D printing and technology in general. Automotive companies that are seemingly successful, have been known over the years to experiment with various 3D printing technology and applications, which has consequently had a considerable influence on the supply chain as well as on product development. Smaller automotive manufacturers, especially, have benefited from the use of 3D printing and have included it as a critical component of their production owing to its many advantages.

In recent times, the automotive industry outdated the predominant use of prototyping applications for purposes of additive engineering into the end-use invention. The flexible nature of the technology and the extensive design freedom offered to car manufacturers has led to the creation of new and cutting-edge designs, therefore revolutionizing the entire automotive industry.

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Accelerating custom car part development: 3D Printing at Ringbrothers

“Custom” is at the core of the Ringbrothers brand. The shop, co-founded by brothers Jim and Mike Ring, has made a name for itself by building award-winning custom cars and producing a line of high-quality, uniquely crafted billet accessories and fiberglass and carbon fiber pieces. 

Metal Ringbrothers-branded billet accessories

But creating unique products can be a challenge. Businesses must create novel designs and high-quality parts that set them apart from the competition while also balancing the cost of designing, testing, and manufacturing custom pieces. 

“You’re trying to create something new that nobody’s seen before and that’s getting harder and harder,” said Jim Ring. “We really want people to appreciate the Ringbrothers brand and the effort that goes into it and the extra machine time. That’s really our goal in everything we do.”

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3D printing could provide new layer of truck part availability

While it won’t go down as the most famous printing invention ever — Johannes Gutenberg’s creation seems likely to hold that title in perpetuity — few technologies in recent decades have been as developmentally groundbreaking as 3D printing.

3D Printing Machine

Introduced in the 1980s and greatly refined over the last decade, 3D printing is a production method using advanced computer technology in which the composition of a material is altered then reshaped and molded to create a three-dimensional object.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a production method with strengths and weaknesses. It’s not a great way to make everything but it is a great way to make specific products ill-suited for mass production.

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Additive manufacturing is driving the future of the automotive industry

Additive manufacturing aligns with the needs of the automotive industry, driving advances in vehicle design. Serial production is a reality today in additive manufacturing (or 3-D printing) as the technologies under this umbrella have advanced to a point where end-use parts can be made of both metal and plastic materials, ready to be put to use in real-world environments. The automotive industry has been a major adopter, with automotive OEMs among the first to install 3-D printers — some 30 years ago, in fact, Ford purchased the third 3-D printer ever made.

2014 Deloitte study pointed to two major areas of influence for 3-D printing in automotive applications: as a source of product innovation and as a driver of supply chain transformation. Over the past nearly half-decade, these predictions have shown to be spot-on as new vehicle models come out faster and sleeker, with digital supply chains reshaping logistics.

Some of the best-known benefits of additive manufacturing align precisely with what automotive OEMs are looking to deliver: faster development cycles, part consolidation, lightweighting, new and custom geometries.

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