One of the industries where additive manufacturing is continually making a splash is the automotive field. From 3D printed cars developed by Local Motors and Divergent 3D, to 3D printing partnerships between McLaren Racing and Stratasys and Divergent 3D and PSA Groupe, many automotive companies are starting to make sure that additive manufacturing has a place on their production floor. Germany-based Audi AG, a leader in premium automobile manufacturing, just announced today its new development partnership with EOS e-Manufacturing Solutions, also based in Germany and a leading global technology company known for its high-end metal and polymer additive manufacturing (AM) solutions.
EOS, a world leader in both AM and quality assurance processes, recently completed the pilot testing for its successful EOS MeltPool solution. Its consulting division, Additive Minds, will support Audi in fully implementing AM to its business, through the application of its industrial 3D printing technology, as well as assisting with the development of a 3D printing center in Ingolstadt, where Audi is headquartered.
“The aim is to not only supply Audi with the right additive systems and processes but to also support them during applications development, when building up internal AM knowledge and training their engineers to become in-house AM experts,” said Güngör Kara, Director of Global Application and Consulting for EOS.
Audi is certainly no stranger to the many benefits of additive manufacturing, sponsoring Part Time Scientists’ work on a 3D printed lunar rover and asking Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht to create four different 3D printed dresses based on the Audi A4 in 2015. Audi Toolmaking installed a 3D printer on the production floor, and created a 3D printed 1:2 scale replica of its historic Grand Prix race car. The automaker is now actively promoting the application of the technology, by working side by side with EOS.
EOS M 400 [Photo: Audi]
Both tool making and the casting technical center for planning will take center stage in the new partnership. Audi will first apply industrial 3D printing to equipment and prototype building, and continue its use with their motor sports division. The company plans to transform the tool manufacturing process: when it comes to industrial 3D printing, the design determines the production, and not the other way around. For instance, when component geometry or assemblies are too elaborate and complex, additive manufacturing will “make possible the production of geometries that would have to be joined in conventional manufacturing.”
“Audi was looking for a reliable development partner and has found that in EOS. We are very happy about that,” said Dr. Stefan Bindl, Team Manager Innovation Center, Additive Minds. “The close cooperation concerning application and process development as well as internal knowledge building makes a significant contribution, which is why Audi can quickly achieve substantial effects for their own business by applying our technology. Obviously, the geographical proximity to one another facilitates our close cooperation significantly.”
Audi TechDay Smart Factory
Audi is also focused on producing inserts for die casting molds and hot working segments. By using complex, additively manufactured cooling channels that are made strictly for the component, the company is able to put a positive influence on series production by producing parts, conformal cooling, and vehicle components in a much more cost-effective way. Before additive manufacturing, these tailor-made component channels were not able to be conventionally added. There is now a 20% reduction of cycle time due to the performance of the optimized cooling, which not only has a positively impacts the components’ cost efficiency, but also energy consumption.
“We have set up our own competence center for 3D printing in order to gain experience with the materials and the processes, and to further develop them for series production,” said Jörg Spindler, Head of Toolmaking, Audi. “A close cooperation with AM solution providers such as EOS, who can support innovation in technology development, is essential for these aims. With this technology we are able to integrate internal structures and functions in tools that we have not been able to create so far with conventional manufacturing methods. Especially with components in small batches, we can now produce components using lightweight construction, quickly and economically based on this technology.”
EOS provides all of the necessary elements for industrial 3D printing, including material, system, and process parameters. Partnerships like these help contribute to the continued automation and digitization of manufacturing. This will be especially helpful for future Audi production, as the company works to embrace the faster, more efficient and sustainable, flexible production processes of methods such as additive manufacturing, or what Audi refers to as the Smart Factory.
The Audi Smart Factory requires organizing a lot of data, so that all of the company’s machinery, employees, and products are in perfect networking harmony. The company says that one thing is totally clear: “car production, as we know it today, will soon no longer exist.” Audi’s vision for the future is smart, networked islands of automobile production, and state that they are working to come up with solutions by teaming up with the top creative minds, to continue shaping automobile production of the future.