BMW receives Altair Enlighten Award for metal 3D printed roof bracket

BMW Group, the German multinational automotive company, has received the 2018 Altair Enlighten Award In the Module category for its 3D printed metal convertible roof bracket.

The Altair Enlighten Awards, presented at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars, in Michigan, recognizes admirable advances in lightweight technology. Said to be the first 3D printed metal component used in a production series vehicle, the roof bracket has reduced the overall weight of the BMW i8 Roadster by 44%.

“When the judges looked at this part, we said, ‘this is the tip of the iceberg for manufacturing,’” explained Richard Yen, a judge for the Altair Enlighten Awards and Senior Vice President of Altair’s Global Automotive and Industry Verticals team.

BMW Group's metal 3D printed roof brackets. Photo via Altair Enlighten.
BMW Group’s metal 3D printed roof brackets. Photo via Altair Enlighten.

Raising the 3D printed roof bracket

Maximilian Meixlsperger, Head of Additive Manufacturing Metal at BMW Group, spent ten years developing the design for a roof bracket, before implementing 3D printing technology. Following the adoption of additive manufacturing, specifically Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology,  the metal roof bracket was produced within a three-month period for the BMW i8 Roadster.

The 3D printed roof bracket is attached to the i8 Roadster’s convertible roof-cover, which is several times heavier than the bracket, using a spring-loaded hinge to enable it to fold and unfold over the vehicle. With this functionality, Meixlsperger and his team used topology optimization software to generate a “load path”—a design distributing the load of a component using the least amount of material possible.

According to BMW Group, with a complex sculptural structure, “the optimized bracket supports the roof-cover and successfully keeps displacements to a minimum to prevent the cover from collapsing during the opening process.”

Typically, such complex components require supports during the 3D printing process to maintain structural integrity; this reduces the efficiency of the component’s design as well as its production due to post-processing procedures such as support removal and additional part refinishing.

“What BMW did is get this done without support,” added Yen. “Now they can print one batch at a time for mass production. They can print more than 600 of these brackets in one batch.”

Furthermore, the SLS 3D printing improved the bracket’s stiffness tenfold when compared to a traditional injection-molded version.

Starting small - components of BMW's i8 Roadster have been made using 3D printing. Image via BMW Group
Starting small – components of BMW’s i8 Roadster have been made using 3D printing. Image via BMW Group

3D printed automotive components

BMW Group is no stranger to additive manufacturing. The company adopted metal 3D printing technologies in order to create a 3D printed chassis and individualized 3D printed radiator covers for its sports motorcycles.

Not to be outdone, Bugatti, the French car manufacturer of high-performance automobiles, have 3D printed a metal brake caliper for its latest hypercar, the Bugatti Chiron. This titanium component was 3D printed using an SLM 500 machine in a job lasting 45 hours.

General Motors, Daimler-Benz, and Faurecia also received Altair Enlighten Awards for their work in lightweight automotive manufacturing. Yen added:

“It’s a rewarding experience each year to witness how simulation-driven design strategies, new materials and advanced manufacturing processes are advancing automotive lightweighting by offering new opportunities to innovate weight-efficient products from the start.”

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Featured image shows BMW Group’s metal 3D printed roof brackets. Photo via Altair Enlighten.