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Inside the Volkswagen 3D printing center at the Autostadt

This is how the automotive giant is using metal 3D printing for part production

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Automotive giant Volkswagen – like other German automotive brands – is rapidly becoming a large adopter of 3D printing – and especially metal 3D printing – technologies not just for prototypes and tools but also for direct production of final car parts and components. The Group – which includes other high profile AM adopter brands such as PorscheBugatti and Lamborghini – is now consolidating many of its AM activities within the new 3D printing center in the Autostadt, at the Wolfsburg factory site. What exactly is being 3D printed there? While we did not yet have the opportunity to visit the center in person, Volkswagen recently provided a fairly accurate report from inside the facility. This is what goes on at the new Volkswagen 3D printing center and turning Wolfsburg into the beating heart of automotive metal additive manufacturing.

Volkswagen 3D printing center
A tour of the 3D printing center: in the presence of the management and Works Council, Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing at Volkswagen (third from left), presents the new printers, production technologies and workplaces.

Metal jetting car parts

One of the key activities is the result of the recent partnership signed with HP and GKN for use of HP’s new metal jet binder jetting technology. Through this deal, the Volkswagen brand’s Toolmaking unit at the Wolfsburg site will soon be able to go into actual 3D series production.

Expansion of the facility from 460 to 3,100 square meters means a new working space where toolmakers, developers, designers and researchers can work together in an interdisciplinary context. HP Metal Jet systems’ modular, expandable structure will eliminate many manual steps, enabling Volkswagen Toolmaking to make its production processes more efficient and cost-effective. On the other hand, the process will also allow a larger number of 3D materials to be produced more rapidly. At present, Wolfsburg’s Toolmaking unit is still researching and building prototypes and tools. But toolmaking specialists in Wolfsburg are also working on lightweight construction concepts that stabilize the steel and therefore also the components. Plans also call for 3D printing technology to be used in series production at the site.

Volkswagen 3D printing center

Racing into production

When developing the I.D. R Pikes Peak electric racing car, Volkswagen engineers used a model for which a large number of individual parts had been produced in 3D printing. AM will play a key role in the future, and this can already be seen in the construction of the race car I.D. R Pikes Peak electric. In development work for wind tunnel tests, Volkswagen engineers used a model that had a variety of individual components made by 3D printing. These parts have also been used in test drives and even in finished race cars – in the form of small components such as cable mounts and switches.

Volkswagen 3D printing center

Sky’s the limit

Volkswagen is not the only brand in the Group to use metallic 3D printing. An Audi team at a 3D printing center in Ingolstadt is also studying ways to further advance the technology for both its brand and the Group. Spare-part production also plays a major role at the site. Original replacement parts that are rarely needed, such as water connecting pipes for the W12 engine, have been produced here with 3D printing using processes such as laser melting. And the moon rover, the Audi lunar quattro, was also made in part with 3D printed materials. Its wheels, for example, are made of aluminum components produced at Audi’s metal 3D printing facilities in Ingolstadt.

Volkswagen 3D printing center
Metal 3D printing: Wheel for the Moonrover mission to the moon

Past and future collide

Porsche uses the 3D printing process to manufacture individual parts for classic cars such as the Porsche 959
The Porsche brand is also using 3D printers to make exceedingly uncommon components that are only needed in small quantities. All parts made by 3D printing processes have to meet the highest technical and optical requirements for maximum fidelity to the original. One example is the release lever for the clutch in the Porsche 959, which is no longer available. This gray cast-iron part has to meet very high-quality requirements and is seldom needed due to the low production number of the super sports car itself. The world’s largest 3D printed titanium pressure functional component ever produced on one of the most powerful brake test benches on the market! This is what it looks like when Bugatti prepares its first printed titanium brake caliper for series production.

Volkswagen 3D printing center

Accelerating brakes

Bugatti is another member of the Volkswagen Group that is instrumental in advancing innovative future-oriented technologies. The company developed the world’s first brake caliper made by additive manufacturing, namely an 8-piston monobloc model. The French super sports car brand is also the first series producer to use titanium and at the same time produced the largest brake caliper in the automotive industry. Bugatti’s newly developed 3D printed brake caliper uses an alloy that appears primarily in aeronautics and aviation applications and features especially high strength and performance properties. Compared to previous aluminum components, which are installed in cars like the Bugatti Chiron, the printed titanium brake caliper could save considerable weight and would also be more robust.

The Volkswagen Group plans to continue its efforts in 3D printing technology in the future. The goal is to establish 3D printing in series production.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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