How Is BMW applying 3D printing to commercial vehicles?

The vanguard of 3D printing technology has always and still is The BMW Group. BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Center for non-metal and metals are headed by Dominik Rietzel and Maximilian Meixlsperger respectively. Together they have delivered 3D printing’s technology capable of both mass consumer customization and the production of automobile parts.

The core application for additive manufacturing technology within the BMW Group is still prototyping. Dominik was very eager to demonstrate how this implementation is still an ongoing journey during a tour of the Additive Manufacturing Center in Munich. Dominik was particularly proud of a process that saved a dashboard from recycling to put on display inside the AMC. This SLS printed dashboard is both spongy and stiff in the appropriate places but appears just like any other dashboard. This research within BMW Group series production led to the development of a printing technique that replicated the feel of foams and today the BMW group uses this research for every dashboard prototype.

Since the birth of metal 3D printing, many manufacturers have been working on the potential of series production but only a few manufacturers have succeeded with GE’s LEAP fuel nozzle being at the top. Maximilian Meixlsperger and his team at BMW came up with the first cost-effective series production of metal additively manufactured components in the commercial automotive industry. This is not an impeller for a one-of-a-kind race car or a reverse-engineered handle for a classic car.

“Normally underneath a part like this you’d have support, but we optimized it to a point where we no longer needed support structures, the part has two little feet that are the only connection to the base plate. Using this method we were also able to stack them into each other and take the build from 51 to 238 parts per platform,” said Maximilian Meixlsperger.

They made a 10 times stiffer part than the plastic injection moulded counterpart and the metal part 44% lighter at the same time as developing some novel printing techniques and building orientations for cost efficiency.

“Our new facility will be a major milestone in additive manufacturing at the BMW Group. The team there will evaluate new and existing technologies in both plastics and metals printing and develop them to series maturity. Our goal is to provide the optimum technology and process chain, be it for individual components, small production runs or even large-scale manufacturing.” said the head of the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Center and the future campus director, Dr Jens Ertel.

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