Volkswagen has partnered with HP and Siemens to develop a manufacturing process that will allow them to 3D print 100,000 metallic auto parts every year by 2025.
Using a process known as binder jetting, which involves using a printhead to plant adhesive over metal powder, layer by layer, the German motor vehicle manufacturer wants to be a pioneer in the future of 3D printing of non-plastic materials.
Metallic 3D-printed parts are significantly lighter than those made from sheet steel — up to 50% less lighter — and since the printers can be used to manufacture several different components in the same workspace, Volkswagen also expects to save plenty of floorspace in their factories. The technology will be used to produce parts for the Volkswagen T-Roc convertible, which will mark the first time the process will be used in production cars.
“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,” Volkswagen says. “These weigh almost 50 percent less than conventional components made from sheet steel,” the automaker notes.”
They’re not pushing forward alone, though. HP has been called upon to develop the printers themselves, and Siemens has put engineers on the task of developing the software that enables the manufacturing technology.
Volkswagen have invested big in order to scale up this technology — in the ballpark of tens of millions of euros over the course of five years.
According to Volkswagen, there are 13 printer units operating at their plant in Wolfsburg manufacturing 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.”