Lichtenfels, Germany - In the development and preparation for series production in the automotive industry, industrial prototyping using laser technology is a method to successfully developing series production vehicles on time and to cost.
As an example, the tooling and prototyping specialists, Robert Hofmann GmbH played an important role in the development of the new Volkswagen Golf mark VII. This company has grown from the tool-making company Siegfried Hofmann GmbH, established in 1958 in Lichtenfels, Germany.
Time and cost pressures are increasingly important factors when preparing the series production of new cars. At the same time, concept vehicles of later pre-series prototypes are needed, which have to be adapted during the development phase and are subjected to trials and tests. At the end of the actual development, pre-series production vehicles have to be made available, so that sales can start marketing the cars. Because of this process, the challenge was to provide individual components for the concept vehicles, plus equipping 100 prototypes and finally 50 to 100 pre-series production cars. To meet customer demands in these three phases, Hoffman model building experts applied different strategies, including molding processes, rapid prototyping technologies and highly specialized finishing techniques.
In terms of numbers of parts, in the case of series production vehicles such as the VW Golf VII, rapid prototyping is quickly followed up with industrial prototyping with batches of 100 to 120 parts for limited series production. Michael Mayer, project manager at Hofmann, says, “Having one supplier for prototypes and series production tooling enhances quality and improves meeting the project’s lead time challenges. The customer gains valuable input through our model building expertise during the development phase. Our tool-making service seamlessly bridges the gap from the development prototyping phase to the series production personnel at Volkswagen."
The model building experts at Hofmann have the necessary range of skills and technologies to fulfill such demanding tasks. At the same time, this model building expertise is incorporated into the company’s tool-making division, which can also supply Volkswagen with production line tooling. In the case of the seventh generation VW Golf, Hofmann supplied 30 injection molding tools within a lead time of only 10 weeks.
Once design had been clarified with Volkswagen, Hofmann started preparing the molds and the deployment of rapid prototyping technologies, such as LaserCUSING (melting metals with laser beams) for individual components including halogen headlights, fog lights, reflectors, rear lights, boot door covers, side panels for seat covers and the dashboard. The LaserCUSING process is changing the prototyping operations of many industries.
Finishing methods such as metalizing for lighting components are essential, as is assembly work right up to producing complete sub-assemblies. Coating, laminating and flocking are other finishing techniques that are applied. What is also commonplace are process combinations and strategies necessary to produce complex sub-assemblies such as dashboards. “How they look and feel, the finishing, the materials and functionality are just as good as typical series production parts," says Mayer. Whereas a comparable series production part requires a development lead time of 25 weeks, model building utilizing modern technologies can deliver pre-production parts in as little as half this time.
The Hofmann Innovation Group is a full service provider offering the whole range of activities from product development right up to series production injection molding tooling. It also provides maintenance task fulfillment during the entire product life cycle. The company benefits from the synergy effects of a networked international group. Here, cutting-edge methods and equipment, manufacturing locations close to customers and excellent quality standards result in the capability to realize complex projects in demanding time frames for fast-moving industries.
Photo: Example of VW Golf VII parts: headlights (example: xenon).