Volkswagen has teamed up with printer manufacturer HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy to accelerate the development of a new 3D printing process that simplifies and speeds up metallic 3D printing.
The “HP Metal Jet” process offers massive productivity improvements compared to other 3D printing methods. Volkswagen says it is the first mass production ready technology relevant to the automotive industry, enabling the production of a large number of parts without having to develop and manufacture the corresponding tools.
Dr Martin Goede, Head of Technology Planning and Development, Volkswagen, says the technology significantly reduces the time required to manufacture parts and allows for the production of large quantities in a short period of time.
“Automotive production is facing major challenges: our customers are increasingly expecting more personalization options. At the same time, complexity is increasing with the number of new models,” he explains.
“That’s why we are relying on state-of-the-art technologies to ensure a smooth and fast production. 3D printing plays a particularly important role in manufacturing of individual parts.”
The collaboration initially aims to develop the technology to the point where design elements can be printed in a small series. This will be the prerequisite, to be able to produce individualised design parts such as tailgate lettering, special gear knobs or keys with personalized lettering for customers without a great deal of effort.
Dr Goede says Volkswagen and GKN Powder Metallurgy intend to establish a process chain geared toward automotive production as early as next year. According to him, the first small (design) components are to be used to further develop the technology so that the first structural components for mass-production vehicles can be printed within two to three years.
“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,” Dr Goede adds.
“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.”
Unlike previous processes in which powder is melted by means of a laser, the new 3D printing process using the HP Metal Jet produces parts layer by layer using a powder and binder. Stephen Nigro, President of 3D Printing at HP Inc. says the component is then “baked” into a metallic component in the so-called sintering process.
“Volkswagen is driving unprecedented innovation as the automotive industry goes through its most transformational era since cars first rolled off the assembly line,” Mr Nigro says.
“We’re proud to collaborate with Volkswagen to identify opportunities for production based on HP’s new Metal Jet 3D printing platform.”
“Together we are engineering and testing solutions for mass-customization and the creation of higher-performance, lower-cost functional parts. And as electrification ushers in entirely new vehicle architectures, we’re excited to collaborate on future 3D applications such as the lightweighting of fully functional and safety certified metal parts.”