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BMW Group adopts WAAM for series production

Enabling the 3D printing of components that are lighter and more rigid than comparable die-cast parts currently manufactured with traditional techniques

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At the Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleißheim, the BMW Group is taking advantage of WAAM technology from MX3D to produce metallic vehicle components and tools. When using WAAM, components can be lighter and more rigid than comparable die-cast parts currently manufactured in series production. They can also be produced more sustainably thanks to lower energy requirements and less material waste. In the future, BMW is planning to use components manufactured using the WAAM in production vehicles.

Large components

The large width and height of a single welding seam means that components can be produced extremely quickly using WAAM. In contrast to laser beam melting, which is already used in prototype and small series production at the BMW Group, WAAM is particularly suitable for larger components. The typical wall thicknesses are well suited to components in the body, drive, and chassis areas. However, tools and devices can also be manufactured using this process, which is also used widely in aviation.

BMW Group adopts WAAM for series production - enabling the 3D printing of components that are lighter and more rigid.

The Additive Manufacturing Campus

The BMW Group, which has more than 30 years of 3D printing experience, is trialing this process at the Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleißheim, where they have pooled production, research, and training in this area under one roof. BMW Group employees have been focussing on the WAAM process since 2015. A WAAM cell for the production of test components has been in use at the campus since 2021.

One of these example applications is a suspension strut support, which, in extensive testing on the test bench, is being compared with the series production component made from aluminum pressure die-casting. “In this early stage, it is already clear that the WAAM process can result in lower emissions in the production process. The lower weight of the components, their advantageous material usage ratio, and the option to use renewable energy means that the components can be produced more efficiently,” said Jens Ertel, Head of BMW Additive Manufacturing. The next stage is testing components in the vehicle, which will start shortly.

The wider welding seams in the WAAM process mean that the surfaces of the components are not smooth, but slightly rippled and must be finished in critical areas. However, BMW Group engineers were able to demonstrate that WAAM components can be used for high loads, including cyclical loads, even without post-treatment of the surface. Optimized process parameters are crucial for ensuring durability directly from production, so the combination of the welding process and robotic path planning must be coordinated optimally.

BMW Group adopts WAAM for series production - enabling the 3D printing of components that are lighter and more rigid.

Generative design

The BMW Group continues to accelerate the use of generative design, using algorithms to design optimized components based on specific requirements. These algorithms are developed in close collaboration with interdisciplinary teams and are in part inspired by evolutionary processes in nature. As with bionic structures, the first step is to use only the material that is actually required for the topology of the component, and during fine-tuning in the second step, the component is reinforced only where necessary. This ultimately results in lighter and more rigid components as well as greater efficiency and improved vehicle dynamics.

“It’s impressive to see how WAAM technology has developed from research to become a flexible tool for not only test components but also series production components. The use of generative design methods enables us to make full use of design freedom and thus the potential of the technology. That was unthinkable just a few years ago,” said Karol Virsik, Head of BMW Group Vehicle Research.

BMW Group adopts WAAM for series production - enabling the 3D printing of components that are lighter and more rigid.

Complementary production processes

According to BMW, different additive production processes are not necessarily in competition with each other, but should rather be viewed as complementary. For example, laser beam melting will continue to be more advantageous than the WAAM process when it comes to the production of high-detail resolution parts. In terms of the possible size of the component and the deposition rate, however, WAAM is superior.

The BMW Group is initially planning centralized WAAM production of components in Oberschleißheim, but in the future, production at other locations and the use of the technology by suppliers is also possible. Further, the company is exploring the production of individual components directly on the assembly line using this process, and the manufacturing of different parts without new tools – simply by changing the software. Sustainability can also be further improved by increasing the use of recycled metals.

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