Businesses across the world are embracing additive manufacturing as a tool that can further enhance the success of their operations. Some companies have been using the technology for decades, and continue to devise different ways to assimilate it into everyday work. One of those companies is BMW.
The German automobile company began adding 3D printing technology to its Rapid Technologies Center in 1990, and started to build prototype parts on its stereolithography machine in 1991. Those parts, according to a press release profiling BMW’s quarter-century long use of the technology, were only used for model vehicles in the earlier years of the process. Though additive manufacturing at BMW wasn’t as widespread back then, its use at the time created the foundation for how the company 3D prints today.
“The targeted use of innovative additive procedures at an early stage has made us one of the pioneers and leaders in 3D printing over the past years,” explained Dr. Udo Haenle, BMW’s head of Production Strategy, Technical Integration and Pilot Plant. “At the BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, Silicon Valley/USA, we are now even conducting a first test run with the new CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology.”
The company has been using additive manufacturing for a wide variety of tasks, like the development of small batches of complex and customized components. The production of these detailed, customized components is common in pre-development, vehicle validation and testing, and concept car creation.
3D printing technologies, the company finds, are particularly useful when producing a brand new line of vehicles, such as its BMW i, a plug-in electric car sub-brand created in 2011. When producing the prototype for a new vehicle, the company for the most part uses 3D printing-oriented methods.
At the opposite end of the new car-development spectrum sits the collectable cars. To create more spare parts for a classic BMW, the company can conduct a 3D scan of the component and a digital data set will soon be created. In other words, when a consumer needs a part for a BMW built during the Nixon administration, he or she just might be saved.
Not all of BMW’s 3D printed creations have been created with automobiles in mind. In 2012, workers at the company’s Rapid Technologies Center used additive manufacturing to plan custom wheelchair seats that would help the British Paralympics basketball team to improve their game. For the process, BMW made 3D scans of each player’s body. Each scan was then taken into consideration when developing the lighter, fitted seats.
In 2014, the company unveiled a 3D-printed ergonomic tool designed to help its vehicle design workers mitigate thumb joint strain typically caused by common assembling labor. Each of the flexible assembly devices is fitted to the exact specifications of the worker’s hand.
Udo Haenle said the precision and speed of 3D printing practices will enable BMW to continue and expand its use of the technology moving forward.
“We see major potential for the future application in series production as well as for new customer offerings, such as personalized vehicle parts, or the spare parts supply.” The press release added that BMW will allow customers to choose whether or not they want custom 3D printed components to be made for their vehicle.
BMW’s Rapid Technologies Center is located at the group’s Research and Innovation Center (FIZ) in Munich. Currently, the center fields on nearly 25,000 prototypes requests each year—producing on average, 100,000 components annually for in-house customers.
Filed Under: 3D printing • additive manufacturing • stereolithography, Industrial automation