Every now and again the process of 3D printing is touted as a way for everything to be manufactured in the future. A lot of the time the items in question are either small, expensive niche creations for medical use or artistic design creations. But now it looks as though 3D printing is getting another use as Volkswagen has now announced it's ready to use the very latest technology for mass-production processes.
Volkswagen is set to become the first automaker to adopt the very latest 3D printing technology, the "HP Metal Jet" process, which simplifies and speeds up metallic 3D printing. The biggest advantage of this particular process is that it improves productivity by a simply staggering 50 times compared to other 3D printing methods, depending on the component, of course.
This now means three-dimensional printing is genuinely production-ready for mass production applications in the automotive industry for the very first time. Volkswagen has closely partnered with printer manufacturer HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy to champion this new technology and press ahead with its development for mass production use. The partnership presented this new process for the very first time at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago this week.
Volkswagen's Head of Technology Planning and Development, Dr. Martin Goede, said of the development: "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.
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."
Although the average VW is produced using between 6,000 and 8,000 different components, until now, existing 3D printing processes could only be used to produce a small number of them or just for prototypes. HP's 3D Metal Jet technology allows for the production of a large number of parts using 3D printing for the very first time, and without having to develop and manufacture the corresponding tools.
As well as for large-scale production of parts, Volkswagen is also further developing the technology so design elements can be printed in small production runs first. This will eventually lead to individualized design parts such as tailgate lettering, special gear knobs or keys for customers to be produced without a great deal of effort. It's hoped this level of individualization can be made available to customers as soon as possible.