AUDI gives update on use of SLM metal 3D printing for the automotive industry

Metal additive manufacturing specialists, the SLM Solutions Group AG has worked with fellow Germany based enterprise AUDI AG for several years now.

A new update from SLM Solutions provides further details on how AUDI are using metal additive manufacturing. This includes the SLM280HL purchased in 2016.

At AUDI, selective laser melting is used to manufacture both prototypes and also spare parts on demand. In the later case it is the rarer spare parts that are more likely to be 3D printed. An example of water adapters for the Audi W12 engine is given by SLM Solutions as one such part manufactured on demand with the SLM280.

Metal 3D printed water connectors for AUDI W12 engine.
Metal 3D printed water connectors for AUDI W12 engine.

Advantages of additive manufacturing

AUDI’s 3D printing center is based at a flagship plant in the southern city of Ingolstadt. This location is AUDI’s largest production facility and Europe’s second-largest car factory. In 2015, it produced over 500,000 cars.

“The biggest advantage of this process is the realization of highly complex components, which cannot be produced with existing manufacturing processes or only with high costs. As a rule of thumb, the smaller, more complex and less cost-sensitive a component is, the more it is suitable for 3D printing,” explains an SLM spokesperson.

Dr. Alexander Schmid, After Sales Manager at AUDI AG added, “Manufacturing on demand is a vision for us to ensure supply with original spare parts, which are required less often, economically and sustainably in the future. Regional printing centers would simplify logistics and warehousing.”

Alexander Schmid, After Sales and Sales AUDI AG
Alexander Schmid, After Sales and Sales AUDI AG

Industrial 3D printing for spare parts

The SLM280 series of metal additive manufacturing systems have a build volume of 280 x 280 x 365 mm, and use 700W lasers. 3D scan optics and patented multi-beam technology improve the speed of the system and can help shorten build times.

Harald Eibisch, from the Technology Development Department at AUDI AG, said, “The new constructive freedoms provided by [industrial 3D printing] are especially interesting. Components for prototypes and spare parts requested extremely rarely are better suited for SLM processes than conventional manufacturing procedures thanks to the benefits of free geometric design. The load capacity of the components is comparable with parts manufactured using traditional methods.”

Dr. Ruben Heid, in the Technology Development Department at AUDI AG, added, “The additive process provides us with plenty of leeway, for example, if a component is to handle additional functions such as cooling or current. The new procedure also provides benefits in weight reduction.”

The SLM280 metal additive manufacturing system. Photo via SLM Solutions.
The SLM280 metal additive manufacturing system. Photo via SLM Solutions.

Ralf Frohwerk, Global Head of Business Development at SLM Solutions Group AG commented, “The trust of automobile manufacturers in metal-based 3D printing is increasing daily. Thanks to growing understanding of “real and meaningful,” 3D-suitable designing, previously unimaginable designs for vehicle parts are being created.

Frohwerk also provided insight into the some of the suitable applications for metal additive manufacturing at automakers and said, “Knowing that nearly every automaker also has vehicle programs with numbers of pieces < 2000 – 3000 units per year in its portfolio, there are also already aluminum die cast components today, for example, that can be produced more economically using additive processes.”

Insights into the application of industrial 3D printing by automakers are valuable, however given the volume of the production at such enterprises current AM systems are unlikely to take on the lion’s share of manufacturing. That is not to say 3D printing is not already saving automakers money. As we reported previously, Volkswagen Group – of which AUDI AG is part of – expects desktop FDM 3D printers to save one factory quarter of a million dollars annually.

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