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The BMW Group is stepping up the systematic integration of additive manufacturing – commonly referred to as 3D printing – to employ the technology for industrial-level vehicle development and production.
At the company’s Additive Manufacturing Campus in Munich, Germany, precision plastic and metal components are constructed from computer-based 3D scans that are “printed upwards” layer-upon-layer until products are formed.
BMW says the most significant advantage of additive manufacturing is the degree of flexibility provided when building components with complex structures. High-quality vehicle parts with complex forms and structures that would otherwise be virtually impossible to produce using conventional tools can be manufactured quickly and easily using computer algorithms.
Daniel Schäfer, BMW’s Senior Vice President for Production Integration and Pilot, says, “processes such as additive manufacturing help us to speed up development cycles and get our vehicles to series maturity faster.”
The Additive Manufacturing Campus Opened in 2020
The company has been pooling its technology expertise at the Additive Manufacturing Campus since it was opened just outside Munich in June 2020.
The center, which began development in April 2018, has 80 associates and operates around 500 systems for processing metals and polymers, with another 50 machines running at other manufacturing sites worldwide. The campus is a learning hub where associates can train to use the existing technology and research new additive manufacturing technologies.
The main goal is to automate manufacturing chains that had previously involved a lot of manual work and make 3D printing more economically viable for industrial-scale production in the future.
According to BMW’s production targets, the campus is expected to generate at least 50,000 series components and more than 10,000 spare parts a year for extensive use across the company globally.
Our goal is to industrialize 3D printing methods more and more for automotive production and to implement new automation concepts in the process chain."
Daniel Schäfer, Senior Vice President for Production Integration and Pilot, BMW
“This will allow us to streamline component manufacturing for series production and speed up development. At the same time, we are collaborating with vehicle development, component production, purchasing and the supplier network, as well as various other areas of the company to systematically integrate the technology and utilize it effectively.”
The Developments are the Result of 30 Years’ Work
BMW’s advances in additive manufacturing are the result of three decades of work to develop the technology. The group first started using additive manufacturing to make prototype components for concept vehicles in 1991. By 2010, both metal and plastic manufacturing processes were being rolled out across BMW to make products such as the water pump wheel for Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) racing cars. Further series production followed, with various components for Rolls Royce in 2012, followed by the BMW i8 Roadster in 2017 and the MINI John Cooper Works in 2020.
Since June 2020, BMW has been additively manufacturing metal and polymer components for the new Rolls-Royce Ghost. Overall, several hundred thousand additively manufactured parts will be installed throughout the car’s model life.
Director of the Additive Manufacturing Campus, Jens Ertel, says: “Over the last thirty years or so, the BMW Group has developed comprehensive skills, which we’ll continue to enhance on our new campus, which has the latest machines and technologies.”
The Development Process
The extent to which additive manufacturing could be used to produce vehicle components was determined by engineering, production, and materials experts who assessed hundreds of parts to see how the technology could be advantageous over conventional manufacture.
Data scientists used specific criteria to create a ‘machine language’ that could be used to select which vehicle parts should be 3D-printed, marking the beginning of an artificial intelligence system that would increasingly enable quicker and earlier component selection.
Components that had previously been almost impossible to make could now be quickly constructed using computer algorithms.
This generative design delivered optimized products with enhanced form and function that were around 50% lighter than similar conventional versions and made the best use of available space.
The BMW group gained access to the latest technologies by forming long-term relationships with leading companies such as Desktop Metal and start-ups such as Xometry.
The company’s latest partnership is with start-up ELISE, a German company that enables engineering experts to establish technical details ranging from load requirements to production restrictions. This information and the latest developmental tools are then used to produce highly optimized components automatically.
What is Next in the Pipeline?
Research projects are an essential part of scaling up additive manufacturing processes to the industrial level. One such initiative the BMW group is involved in is the Industrialization and Digitization of Additive Manufacturing for Automotive Series Production (IDAM) project.
BMW is working with the IDAM group on the specific requirements for series, individual and spare-part production.
The team at BMW’s Additive Manufacturing Campus is also developing a consistent quality assurance methodology in line with the EOS-led POLYLINE project, aiming to improve the standards, automation, and transparency of additive manufacturing process chains in the automotive space.
The resulting developments are expected to cut manufacturing costs by as much as 50%.
“Additive manufacturing is already an integral part of our worldwide production system today and established in our digitization strategy,” says BMW’s board member for production Milan Nedeljković. “In the future, new technologies of this kind will shorten production times even further and allow us to benefit even more fully from the potential of toolless manufacturing.”
References and Further Reading
Nicole Kareta (2020) BMW Group drives the industrialization of 3D printing. [Online] ETMM. Available at: https://www.etmm-online.com/bmw-group-drives-the-industrialisation-of-3d-printing-a-987932/
Industrial-scale 3D printing continues to advance at BMW Group. [Online] Automotive World 2020. Available at: https://www.automotiveworld.com/news-releases/industrial-scale-3d-printing-continues-to-advance-at-bmw-group/
Sam Davies (2020) BMW Group bidding to 'industrialize 3D printing' as new €15 million Additive Manufacturing Campus opens. [Online] Tct magazine. Available at: https://www.tctmagazine.com/additive-manufacturing-3d-printing-news/bmw-group-additive-manufacturing-campus/
BMW Group. [Online] Available at: www.bmwgroup.com
BMW Group opens its new Additive Manufacturing campus. [Online] Metal AM 2020. Available at: https://www.metal-am.com/bmw-group-opens-its-new-additive-manufacturing-campus/
Gabriel Nica (2020) BMW announces further advances in industrial 3D Printing tech. [Online] BMW Blog. Available at: https://www.bmwblog.com/2020/12/10/bmw-3d-printing-tech/