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Audi Uses SLM Solutions Metal 3D Printers for Spare Parts On-Demand

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The SLM So­lu­tions Group AG has been col­lab­o­rat­ing closely with AUDI AG for quite some time. The com­pany uses the se­lec­tive laser melt­ing process for the man­u­fac­ture of parts for pro­to­types and spare parts re­quested ex­tremely rarely. For ex­am­ple, the water adapters of the Audi W12 en­gine are man­u­fac­tured on de­mand with the SLM280.

The metal-based ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­ogy opens up com­pletely new ways in the areas of de­vel­op­ment, de­sign and pro­duc­tion, and it is now also used sys­tem­at­i­cally in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try in var­i­ous areas. The biggest ad­van­tage of this process is the re­al­iza­tion of highly com­plex com­po­nents, which can­not be pro­duced with ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing processes or only with high costs. As a rule of thumb, the smaller, more com­plex and less cost-sen­si­tive a com­po­nent is, the more it is suit­able for 3D print­ing.

AUDI AG has taken ad­van­tage of these fa­vor­able con­di­tions and uses metal­lic 3D print­ing for spe­cial ap­pli­ca­tion areas. In spe­cial and ex­clu­sive se­ries, the first com­po­nents are al­ready being man­u­fac­tured using the ad­di­tive SLM method as well as are rarely de­manded, orig­i­nal spare parts, for ex­am­ple, a water adapter for the Audi W12 en­gine.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ing on de­mand is a vi­sion for us to en­sure sup­ply with orig­i­nal spare parts, which are re­quired less often, eco­nom­i­cally and sus­tain­ably in the fu­ture. Re­gional print­ing cen­ters would sim­plify lo­gis­tics and ware­hous­ing.” Dr. Alexan­der Schmid, After Sales Man­ager at AUDI AG.

The ma­chines of the SLM280 se­ries have proved to be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. The ma­chine cre­ates high-qual­ity metal build parts based on 3D CAD data. Mea­sur­ing 280 x 280 x 365 mm³, the ma­chine pro­vides one of the largest con­struc­tion spaces in its class as well as patented multi-beam tech­nol­ogy. The pow­er­ful 700W lasers, which ex­pose the build field dur­ing the build process via 3D scan op­tics, fur­ther shorten build times. The ma­chine is con­vinc­ing thanks to its ex­cel­lent pro­duc­tiv­ity, high qual­ity and safe pow­der han­dling.

Pro­to­typ­ing has al­ready rev­o­lu­tion­ized the tech­nol­ogy today, be­cause a com­po­nent can be trans­ferred di­rectly from de­sign draw­ings into re­al­ity. Har­ald Eibisch, in the Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment at AUDI AG, noted: “The new con­struc­tive free­doms pro­vided by this tech­nol­ogy are es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing. Com­po­nents for pro­to­types and spare parts re­quested ex­tremely rarely are bet­ter suited for SLM processes than con­ven­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­ce­dures thanks to the ben­e­fits of free geo­met­ric de­sign. The load ca­pac­ity of the com­po­nents is com­pa­ra­ble with parts man­u­fac­tured using tra­di­tional meth­ods.” The water adapter of the W12 en­gine also shows that 3D print­ing sets no lim­its in terms of loads. There is no di­rect dis­ad­van­tage in the ma­te­r­ial prop­er­ties, and even highly stressed parts such as pis­tons can be printed. Be­cause ma­te­r­ial is ap­plied layer by layer, you can specif­i­cally in­flu­ence the mi­crostruc­ture, via which the me­chan­i­cal prop­er­ties dif­fer­ent sig­nif­i­cantly from con­ven­tion­ally pro­duced com­po­nents.

The re­search de­part­ment at­trib­utes enor­mous im­por­tance to the topic of 3D print­ing. Dr. Ruben Heid, in the Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment at AUDI AG, added: “Ac­cord­ing to a rule of thumb, a com­po­nent is suit­able for 3D print­ing when it is smaller, com­plex and not very cost-sen­si­tive. The ad­di­tive process pro­vides us with plenty of lee­way, for ex­am­ple, if a com­po­nent is to han­dle ad­di­tional func­tions such as cool­ing or cur­rent. The new pro­ce­dure also pro­vides ben­e­fits in weight re­duc­tion.”

Ralf Fro­hw­erk, Global Head of Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment at SLM So­lu­tions Group AG con­firmed: “The trust of au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers in metal-based 3D print­ing is in­creas­ing daily. Thanks to grow­ing un­der­stand­ing of “real and mean­ing­ful,” 3D-suit­able de­sign­ing, pre­vi­ously unimag­in­able de­signs for ve­hi­cle parts are being cre­ated. Know­ing that nearly every au­tomaker also has ve­hi­cle pro­grams with num­bers of pieces < 2000 – 3000 units per year in its port­fo­lio, there are also al­ready alu­minum die cast com­po­nents today, for ex­am­ple, that can be pro­duced more eco­nom­i­cally using ad­di­tive processes.

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