HP and Volkswagen have announced that the automotive giant is to use HP’s new Metal Jet printers to 3D print metal components for its cars at scale, as Jessica Twentyman reports.
For most leading automotive manufacturers, the dream of 3D printing an entire car is still some way off. But at Volkswagen, it may be a little closer since the company unveiled plans to deploy new 3D printers from HP that are capable of printing in metals, rather than the usual plastics.
At last week’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, Volkswagen and HP showcased their plans to put metal 3D printing to work on production lines, alongside partner GKN Powder Metallurgy, a company that supplies components to Volkswagen.
As early as next year, GKN and Volkswagen plan to begin 3D printing small components for automobiles, initially in small runs to develop the technology. The first structural components for mass-production vehicles, meanwhile, are expected within the next two to three years.
“A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts from the 3D printer will increase significantly,” said Dr Martin Goede, head of technology planning and development at Volkswagen.
“Our goal is to integrate printed structural parts into the next generation of vehicles as quickly as possible. In the long term, we expect a continuous increase in unit numbers, part sizes, and technical requirements.”
HP unveils Metal Jet
Volkswagen is the first automotive manufacturer to sign up for HP’s new Metal Jet printers, launched at last week’s event in Chicago. HP executives claim these machines provide up to 50 times more productivity (based on print speed for serial production of up to 100,000 parts) at a significantly lower cost compared with other metals 3D printers.
Competing suppliers in this area of selective laser melting (SLM) 3D printing include SLM Solutions and EOS, both of which are currently working with Audi, also part of the Volkswagen Group.
According to Dion Weisler, CEO and president of HP, the automotive, industrial, and medical sectors alone produce billions of metal parts each year. “HP’s new Metal Jet 3D printing platform unlocks the speed, quality, and economics to enable our customers to completely rethink the way they design, manufacture, and deliver new solutions in the digital age,” he claimed.
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A Volkswagen vehicle is typically comprised of between 6,000 and 8,000 individual parts. By using metals 3D printing, the company will be able to produce large numbers of metal parts for the first time, without having to develop and manufacture the tooling that would be required in a traditional manufacturing process.
The upshot is that it will be possible to produce larger quantities of parts in shorter timespans.
Volkswagen’s multi-year plan to use HP Metal Jet has several strands. First, Volkwagen and GKN will potentially use metals 3D printing to produce parts that are customised for individual customers, such as individualised key rings and exterior-mounted name plates.
But they are also planning for the mass-production of higher-performance functional parts with significant structural requirements, such as gearshift knobs and mirror mounts. And as electric vehicles enter mass production, the companies expect HP Metal Jet to be used in applications such as the ‘lightweighting’ of parts.
“Automotive production is facing major challenges: our customers are increasingly expecting more personalisation options. At the same time, complexity is increasing with the number of new models,” said Dr Goede at Volkswagen. “That’s why we are relying on state-of-the-art technologies to ensure a smooth and fast production. 3D printing plays a particularly important role in manufacturing of individual parts.”