BMW embarked on its 3D printing voyage in 1990 with the inauguration of its Rapid Technologies Center. The initial focus was on stereolithography, a form of 3D printing that enabled the creation of early concept and component prototypes. These prototypes served as crucial stepping stones, guiding the transition from concept to reality. This early exposure to 3D printing's potential shaped BMW's future strategies and integration of the technology into their manufacturing processes.
The Mechanics of 3D Printing in Car Manufacturing
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, involves creating objects by adding material layer by layer, based on digital models. This contrasts with traditional subtractive manufacturing, where the material is removed to create the final product. The precision, versatility, and efficiency of 3D printing have made it an invaluable tool in the automotive industry, particularly for BMW.
Advantages and Innovations: How BMW Benefits from 3D Printing
Customization and Flexibility
BMW has leveraged 3D printing to produce customized car parts and prototypes, allowing for greater design freedom and the ability to quickly test and validate new concepts. This flexibility has been crucial in the development of BMW's i sub-brand, which focuses on plug-in electric cars.
Ergonomic Tools and Classic Car Parts
Beyond vehicle parts, BMW has innovatively applied 3D printing to create ergonomic tools, reducing strain for assembly workers. The technology also plays a role in preserving BMW's heritage, enabling the reproduction of hard-to-find parts for classic cars.
Pioneering Examples: The 3D Printed Roof Bracket
A standout example of BMW's 3D printing prowess is the roof bracket for the 2018 BMW i8 Roadster. This component, a decade in the making, showcases the intricate capabilities of 3D printing. The bracket, essential for the car's soft-top mechanism, was too complex for traditional casting methods. Using topology optimization software, BMW's engineers designed a lightweight yet robust bracket, achieving a 44% weight reduction compared to the previous model. This advancement not only signifies a leap in manufacturing efficiency but also contributes to the vehicle's overall performance and fuel efficiency.
The Future of 3D Printing in Automotive Manufacturing: BMW's POLYLINE Project
The POLYLINE project, as brilliantly covered in our recent BIMMERIST article, marks a groundbreaking chapter in BMW's journey with 3D printing. This project is not merely an incremental step; it's a giant leap into the future of automotive manufacturing, harnessing the full potential of 3D printing technology.
The POLYLINE Project: A Symphony of Innovation
At the heart of the POLYLINE project lies a coalition of industrial heavyweights and academic minds, spearheaded by BMW. This team has successfully executed a comprehensive, system-agnostic approach to 3D printing, setting a new benchmark in the industry.
The Technical Marvels of POLYLINE
The EOS P500 printer, a cornerstone of this project, exemplifies the advancements in 3D printing technology. Coupled with Grenzebach’s Exchange P500/4 system, the project has transformed the efficiency of empire-build removals and cooling processes.
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and sophisticated software systems work in concert to streamline the production process. DyeMansion’s PowerShot DUAL Performance plays a crucial role, deftly handling the cleaning and resurfacing of printed parts.
Impact and Implications
BMW's investment of $11 million in the POLYLINE project illustrates the company's commitment to revolutionizing additive manufacturing. The outcome is a streamlined, polymer powder bed fusion line that not only reduces labor costs but also enhances reliability and repeatability.
But the ambition of BMW doesn’t stop at polymer 3D printing. The company is also accelerating its efforts in metal 3D printing and sand core printing, integrating advanced AI and robotics to further refine these processes.
Conclusion: Embracing a New Era in Automotive Manufacturing
BMW's 33-year journey with 3D printing is a testament to the company's foresight and innovative spirit. By integrating 3D printing into their production processes, BMW has not only enhanced their manufacturing capabilities but also opened new avenues for design, efficiency, and customization. As this technology continues to evolve, BMW remains at the forefront, shaping the future of automotive manufacturing in an increasingly digital and sustainable world.