Volkswagen is pressing ahead with the use of 3D printers in car production. For the first time, binder jetting is being used to manufacture components at the company’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. (earlier post) Whereas conventional 3D printing uses a laser to build a component layer by layer from metallic powder, the binder jetting process uses an adhesive. The resulting metallic component is then heated and shaped.
Using the binder jetting component reduces costs and increases productivity—for example, the components weigh only half as much as those made from sheet steel. Volkswagen is currently the only car maker using this 3D printing technology in the production process.
Together with our partners, we aim to make 3D printing even more efficient in the years ahead and suitable for production-line use.—Christian Vollmer, member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Brand responsible for Production and Logistics
Volkswagen has invested an amount in the mid-double-digit million euro range over the past five years in the technology. In addition, the company has entered into a software partnership with Siemens and expanded its existing collaboration with printer manufacturer HP. With the first full-scale use of binder jetting, Volkswagen intends to acquire important experience and learn, for example, which components can be produced economically and quickly in the future or how additive manufacturing can support the digital transformation of production at Volkswagen.
HP is providing the high-tech printers needed and Siemens the special software for additive manufacturing. One key process step that has been worked on jointly by Siemens and VW is optimizing the positioning of components in the build chamber. Known as nesting, this technique makes it possible to produce twice as many parts per print session.
By 2025, the aim is to produce up to 100,000 components by 3D printing in Wolfsburg each year. The first components made using the binder jetting process have gone to Osnabrück for certification: components for the A pillar of the T-Roc convertible. These weigh almost 50% less than conventional components made from sheet steel. This reduction alone makes the process especially interesting for automotive production applications.
Volkswagen has already successfully conducted crash tests on 3D-printed metallic vehicle components. Until now, the production of larger volumes was not cost-effective enough. However, the new technology and the collaboration will now make production-line use economically viable.
Volkswagen has been using 3D printing for 25 years, starting in Technical Development with the goal of accelerating vehicle development and reducing costs. Today, there are 13 units at the Wolfsburg plant using various printing processes to manufacture both plastic and metal components. Typical examples are plastic components for prototypes such as center consoles, door cladding, instrument panels and bumpers. Printed metal components include intake manifolds, radiators, brackets and support elements. Over the past 25 years, more than one million components have been produced.
Volkswagen’s collaboration with Siemens is part of a comprehensive strategic partnership in the field of digital production platforms.