Volkswagen has said it has started using metal 3D printing processes for mass produced cars.
The automotive firm has said advances in the speed of 3D printing will allow it to offer more personalised options to consumers. It hopes to be able to offer individually designed parts including tailgate lettering, gear knobs or personalised keys “without a great deal of effort”.
Volkswagen said it was using HP’s Metal Jet printer technology, which HP said can be up to 50 times more productive than other 3D printers depending on the widget being made. The project is part of a partnership with HP and component manufacturer GKN.
Martin Goede, head of technology planning and development at Volkswagen, said the technology was needed to meet growing customer expectations for more personalisation and an increase in complexity from the number of new models.
“Our goal is to integrate printed structural parts into the next generation of vehicles as quickly as possible. In the long term, we expect a continuous increase in unit numbers, part sizes and technical requirements – right up to soccer-size parts of over 100,000 units per year,” he said.
“A single car consists of 6,000 to 8,000 different parts. A big advantage of an additive technology like HP Metal Jet is it allows us to produce many of these parts without first having to build manufacturing tools. By reducing the cycle time for the production of parts, we can realise a higher volume of mass production very quickly.”
Goede added Volkswagen is expected to have introduced 80 new electric car models by 2025, for which this technology is expected to produce components.
Because of the time 3D printers usually take to create a finished product their usefulness has been limited mainly to one-off parts or prototyping. But Volkswagen said the productivity gains made by HP will allow for the production of a large number of 3D printed parts over a short period of time.
“A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts from the 3D printer will increase significantly,” said Goede.
HP is also developing its technology with partners from other sectors including healthcare.
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