BMW Group: Pioneer in Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing has quickly become one of the fastest embraced manufacturing and prototyping innovations throughout the automotive industry. Recently, it has been utilized to manufacture engine parts, a replica of historical race cars, customized exhaust systems and even whole street prepared cars. While 3D printing is not another innovation by any methods, it is just in the last half-decade that it has begun to be plainly received by a large portion of the automobile industry. However, not everyone currently is jumping on the 3D printing fad; a few organizations can be considered pioneers and have been using it for decades.

German automobile giant, BMW Group was one of the earlier adopters of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology. When they opened their Rapid Technologies Center in 1990, the firm essentially used their stereo lithography machine to 3D print early ideas and part models. The parts would frequently be used as a proof of concept before they proceeded onward to traditional tooling, or be used for model vehicles. In the beginning, the additively produced parts were mostly used for concept cars but were further developed for additional purposes over the years. Depending on the component specifications, BMW Group applies different procedures and materials. Be that as it may, as per BMW, those early positive experiences with 3D printing for a quarter of a century helped shaped how the organization used 3D printing today, and how they will be using it later on.

Refining Additive Manufacturing Processes

The BMW Group is in constant work of refining additive manufacturing processes for series production. Dominating the conventional point-to-point 3D printing methods, the new, planar printing technologies enable considerably faster production times, and go above and beyond to ease the printing process. Beamers or infrared sources are used to expose the full surface, rather than point-to-point, high-priced light sources, such CO2 or UV lasers.

Dr. Jens Ertel, head of the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Centre says, “Planar technologies are central to the use of additive processes in series production. The most recent example can be found in the preliminary trials of the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. The process will initially be used in prototyping, but we plan to extend it into series production over the long term.” The process utilizes print heads and liquid agents, like a conventional inkjet printer.

At the start of the process, a thin layer of base powder material is applied. The print head then sprays fusing and detailing agents onto the powder bed. What is unusual is that at the same time, the respective layer of the component is fused using infrared radiation. This speeds up production time and increases flexibility.

Using CLIP Technology to its Fullest Potential

Last year saw the introduction of CLIP technology (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) – a breakthrough in the field of planar 3D printing process. Since this method works with planar exposure from a beamer, it shortens production times considerably. The BMW Group used the process for the first time to produce individualized side indicators for the “DriveNow” car-sharing fleet. In a social media campaign, German customers voted on names for a total of 100 MINIs in the fleet. CLIP technology was then used to integrate these in the indicator body of the vehicles being tested on the roads in Germany.

The Additive Manufacturing Centre at the company’s Research and Innovation Centre (FIZ) has also been using these forming processes to produce parts for the new Rolls-Royce Dawn since the start of the year. The team at the FIZ handles nearly 25,000 prototype orders annually and delivers more than 100,000 components per year to customers within the BMW Group. The spectrum ranges from small plastic holders to design samples to metal chassis components for functional testing. Depending on the process used and size of the parts, components are often available within just a few days.

Decades of Experience Helping Overcome Every Hurdle

With more than a quarter of a century usage, many areas have enjoyed the benefits of additively-manufactured components from BMW Group. Classic examples of additive manufacturing are areas where customized and, in some cases, highly complex components are required in small quantities – mainly in pre-development, vehicle validation and testing or for concept and show cars, but also small series production. Along these lines, the company is constantly working to harness new additive methods for vehicles from prototypes to classic cars. However, the methods are also utilized in tool-making and manufacturing equipment. The BMW Group celebrated the first successful use of this technology in small-series production in 2010, with the additively-manufactured water pump wheel still fitted in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) vehicles to this day.

Expanding its Pioneering Role into the Future

The BMW Group is bit by bit pursuing the evolution and use of advanced additive-manufacturing methods. The BMW Group is confident that planar 3D printing technologies will enable much faster production times and more economical production in the future and the company aims to continue expanding this pioneering role in the future.

About the Key Executive

Dr.-Ing. Udo Hänle, is Senior Vice President, Production Strategy and Technical Integration at BMW Group. Born in Friedrichshafen/Bodensee, Dr. Udo completed his studies and master degree in Aerospace Engineering, from the University of Stuttgart. From the same university, he later got his Ph.D. Since then, he has been at forefront of BMW Group, performing every role he was given to successfully. At his current role, he looks after production strategy and technical integration at BMW.