How major automakers use AM for production today, part 5: BMW additive manufacturing
During this month’s AM Focus Automotive, we are mapping out the most accurate and up to date scenario for automotive additive manufacturing in final part production. We present an analysis of the latest progress made by each major automaker group and some of the key activities—either publicly disclosed or confirmed by reliable sources. Here’s a look at BMW additive manufacturing. In the previous episodes, we looked at Volkswagen, General Motors, Daimler Benz and Ford. Still upcopming: PSA, FCA and JLR.
Since “coming out” officially as a major AM adopter in 2016, BMW Group continued to announce major initiatives in AM for part production. They were consolidated in the Additive Manufacturing Campus, located in Oberschleissheim, just north of Munich. BMW is known to also rely on external AM parts providers for SLS and SLA (Figure 4) parts production, such as 3D Systems’ On Demand Advanced AM Center near Turin, in Northern Italy.
BMW was the first carmaker to 3D print a production run of several thousand metal parts for the BMW i8 Roadster: a 3D printed fixture for the soft-top, printed using aluminum PBF. In 2018 BMW announced it had printed over 1 million parts in the past 10 years, with the millionth part being a nylon window guide rail serially produced for the BMW i8 Roadster using HP multijet fusion technology. BMW printed more than 200,000 parts in 2018, over than 42% more than in 2017. The company expects that it will have several thousand 3D parts in each vehicle within the next ten years.
BMW i Ventures also invested in Silicon Valley-based Carbon, whose DLS (digital light synthesis) layerless photopolymerization process is used in the production of unspecified polymer automotive parts. Another investment in additive manufacturing was made in the start-up Desktop Metal, which competes with Markforged and HP on offering bound metal 3D printing processes for both tooling and high-throughput production runs.
In June 2017 the BMW Group invested in custom production service provider Xometry, which is working to disrupt the supply chain in large industries such as automotive. Pilot projects are already underway in a range of areas including spare parts manufacturing via metal powder bed fusion.
BMW’s MINI brand looked to mass customization applications with polymer powder bed fusion in the MINI Yours Customized program that allows customers to design certain components themselves. The MINI Yours Customized service to offer its customers the opportunity of providing selected upgrade products with a design they have selected themselves.
The 3D printers used in this process are all highly professional production systems that were precisely configured for this purpose by the BMW Group, through strategic partnerships with HP, Carbon and EOS. This is the first time that they have been in a position to supply the particularly high-grade plastic qualities selected for the MINI Yours Customized program. The computer-based laser lettering for the production of the door sill with customer-specific styling has also been designed specifically to match the stringent product-quality guidelines of MINI. As a result, all MINI Yours Customized products are in conformity with the same high standards of form, functionality and safety as the components supplied from the factory in the original MINI range of accessories.
In 2016, BWM-owned high-end brand Rolls-Royce revealed it incorporated over 10,000 3D-printed parts in its Rolls-Royce Phantom models, starting in 2012. The company also revealed its Additive Manufacturing Centre at the BMW Group’s Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) has been using 3D printers to produce parts for the new Rolls-Royce Dawn since the start of 2016.
“Additive technologies will be one of the main production methods of the future for the BMW Group – with promising potential,” said at the time Udo Hänle, Head of Production Strategy, Technical Integration. “The integration of additively-manufactured components into Rolls-Royce series production is another important milestone for us on the road to using this method on a large-scale. By utilizing new technologies, we will be able to shorten production times further in the future and increasingly exploit the potential of tool-less manufacturing methods.”
Components produced using additive manufacturing include high-visibility plastic holders for hazard-warning lights, center lock buttons, electronic parking brakes and sockets for the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Mounting brackets for fiber-optic cables are the main use case in the Rolls-Royce Dawn and the company will install several thousand of these clips throughout the model lifecycle.
Rolls Royce and BMW are also both leveraging newer and faster planar printing technologies such as Carbon’s and HP’s, enabling considerably faster production times than conventional point-to-point 3D printing methods.