As additive manufacturing becomes an increasingly established technology in industrial production systems of all kinds, more and more companies are seeking to optimise their 3D printing capabilities and to integrate these more fully into the entire production process.
One such company is the BMW Group, which has now invested €15 million in a new Additive Manufacturing Campus. The new centre, equipped with the latest machines and technologies, brings together the production of prototype and series parts under one roof, along with research into new 3D printing technologies, and associate training for the global rollout of toolless production. The BMW Group is aiming to industrialise 3D printing methods for automotive production and to implement new automation concepts in the process chain, allowing, for example, component manufacturing for series production to be streamlined and promoting a more speedy adoption of new developments.
“We are working hard to mature additive manufacturing fully and benefit from it as far as possible throughout the product life-cycle, from the first vehicle concept through to production, aftersales and its use in classic vehicles,” explained Jens Ertel, the director of the Additive Manufacturing Campus.
The BMW Group first started the additive manufacturing of prototype parts back in 1991, for concept vehicles. Last year, the BMW Group produced around 300,000 parts by additive manufacturing. The Additive Manufacturing Campus currently employs up to 80 associates and operates about 50 industrial systems that work with metals and plastics. Another 50 systems are in operation at production sites around the world.
Access to the latest technologies is gained through long-standing partnerships with leading manufacturers and universities, and by successfully scouting for industry newcomers. The latest of these is the German start-up ELISE, which allows engineers to produce component DNA containing all the technical requirements for the part, from load requirements and manufacturing restrictions to costs and potential optimisation parameters. ELISE then uses this DNA, along with established development tools, to automatically generate optimum components.
The pre-development unit of the Additive Manufacturing Campus optimises new technologies and materials for comprehensive use across the company. The main focus is on automating process chains that have previously required large amounts of manual work, to make 3D printing more economical and viable for use on an industrial scale over the longer term. When it comes to developing 3D printing processes for use on an industrial scale, research projects are especially important. BMW currently has two such projects running, both funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research.
The Additive Manufacturing Campus is also making a significant contribution to series production of plastic parts. In the POLYLINE project, the focus is on aspects such as digitally linking process steps, and the development of a consistent quality assurance methodology for the entire process chain.
The Additive Manufacturing Campus will provide the backdrop for the project’s consortium of 15 partners to develop and test a future-proof, fully linked, automated production line for plastic components. Findings from the project are expected to help reduce manufacturing costs by as much as 50 percent, making a vital contribution to series production. In addition, integrated quality assurance methods will increase the stability of technologies and make manufacturing more sustainable.