Volkswagen, in collaboration with printer-maker HP and component manufacturer GKN Powder Metallurgy, aims to integrate 3D-printed parts into its mass produced vehicles by 2020.

Speaking at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Dr Martin Goede, head of technology planning and development at Volkswagen, said HP’s “state-of-the-art” Metal Jet printing technology would allow the Wolfsburg-based brand to produce 100 000 small individualised components (such as gear knobs) per year.

Goede described the technology as an “important step into the future” for not only the German automaker, but the automotive industry as a whole.

Stephen Nigro from HP added that the companies were also testing solutions to create lower-cost, higher-performance parts.

But how does this $400 000 (yes, R6 038 160 at the current exchange rate) printer work? Using metal powder (provided by GKN) and binder, the Metal Jet printer employs an additive process and produces the desired components layer by layer. Unlike previous methods in which the powder is melted, here it is "baked" into the designated parts.

This is not the first time Volkswagen has used 3D-printed parts. The ID R Pikes Peak racer that broke the all-time Pikes Peak record in June 2018 featured many small 3D-printed components, such as brackets and switches. This was, of course, a prototype and producing 3D-printed parts for mass production vehicles poses a far larger challenge.

“A complete vehicle will probably not be manufactured by a 3D printer any time soon, but the number and size of parts from the 3D printer will increase significantly,” said Goede.

Author: Marius Boonzaier
Volkswagen 3D printing