Metal additive manufacturing moves toward automotive series production
MUNICH, GERMANY – On March 27, 2019, the Industrialization and Digitization of Additive Manufacturing (IDAM) joint project held its kickoff meeting in Munich, Germany, with the goal of paving the way for additive manufacturing to enter automotive series production (FIGURE 1). The 12 project partners include subject matter experts (SMEs), large companies, and research institutions that will transfer metal additive manufacturing into an industrialized and highly automated series process in the automotive industry. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (Fraunhofer ILT) and the Chair for Digital Additive Production (DAP) at RWTH Aachen University (both in Aachen, Germany) are supporting the project through their many years of experience in additive manufacturing technologies.
The goal of IDAM is to promote the industrialization and digitization of additive manufacturing for automotive series processes. In this project, the partners are laying an important cornerstone to sustainably strengthen Germany’s technological pioneering role and the country itself as a manufacturing location. By integrating metal additive manufacturing into conventional production lines in the automotive industry, IDAM will enable them to replace costly and time-consuming processes, such as the production of molds, and to meet the desire for product customization at no extra cost.
Metal additive manufacturing is being implemented at two locations: the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Center in Munich and automotive supplier GKN Powder Metallurgy’s factory in Bonn, Germany (FIGURES 2 and 3). There, the IDAM team is qualifying additive manufacturing technology for the specific requirements to produce identical parts as well as individual and spare parts on the basis of specific components. The targeted quantities speak for the signal character of the joint project: In the future, it should be possible to produce at least 50,000 components per year in mass production and over 10,000 individual and spare parts—at the highest quality and under extreme cost pressure—with the additive manufacturing production lines.
Two modular and almost completely automated additive manufacturing production lines are being set up in Bonn and Munich. They cover the entire process, from digital to physical component manufacturing all the way to post-processing. Individual modules can be adapted to the different production requirements, thanks to the modular construction of the line and, if necessary, replaced. In addition, their process steps can be controlled and utilized flexibly. By taking an integrated view of the automotive production line into account, the project partners plan on reducing the manual share of activities along the process chain from currently around 35% to less than 5%. In addition, the unit costs of 3D-printed metal components should be more than halved.
The expertise of the SMEs within the project comes to the forefront in designing, providing, and connecting the modules for the additive manufacturing production line. Among other things, they take over the automation of the interfaces between the individual process steps or, as part of the project, develop a series-ready and modular production facility for metal additive manufacturing. The other modular process components, such as powder handling, monitoring, and automated post-processing, are also being developed by the SMEs. The research institutions are assuming tasks for process control, the digital twin, and the preventive increase in quality, among others. Since large industrial companies are involved, these linked modules can be used in additive manufacturing production lines under real conditions and on a large scale. In addition, industrial standards can be set and industry-relevant quality characteristics elaborated. Only through this interdisciplinary cooperation does the IDAM project make it possible to holistically examine metallic 3D printing for automotive series processes and to establish it sustainably in production.