Jun 21, 2017 | By Tess

Volkswagen Autoeuropa, a Volkswagen-owned automobile manufacturing facility based in Portugal, has seen the benefits of using Ultimaker 3D printers for the production of custom tools and parts. According to the car manufacturing plant, the desktop 3D printers have enabled it to manufacture custom parts more quickly and at a lower cost than using traditional manufacturing methods.

When we think about 3D printing being used for car manufacturing, we usually think of industrial additive manufacturing systems and top-of-the-line (read: expensive) equipment. As Volkswagen Autoeuropa has shown, however, even desktop 3D printers have their part to play in the automotive industry.

Engineers at the Volkswagen Autoeuropa facility have been using a set of Ultimaker 3 and Ultimaker 2+ 3D printers to design and 3D print custom gauges, jigs, and fixtures on-demand. The addition of the desktop 3D printers has enabled the plant to reduce its reliance on external vendors and has increased its productivity significantly. (Volkswagen Autoeuropa says it has cut back on tool development time by a whopping 95 percent and on production costs by 90 percent.)

"Since we have integrated Ultimaker's 3D printing technology into our process, 93 percent of what we previously sourced externally is produced in-house," commented Luis Pascoa from Volkswagen Autoeuropa. "In addition to the time and cost savings we realize, the tools we output are more complex and ergonomic—and, ultimately, far more useful in our day-to-day operations because they are tailored to our needs.”

The facility was, for instance, able to 3D print a wheel protection jig (pictured below) for the low cost of 21 euros ($23.40). Before 3D printing, the part would have to be manufactured externally, a process which could cost up to 800 euros ($893). In terms of time, the 3D printed part was completed in just 10 days compared to the 56 days it would have taken before.

The Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant manufactures as many as 100,000 cars per year and employs 4,000 people. Last year, the facility 3D printed roughly 1,000 parts using its Ultimaker 3D printers. It estimates that it saved $160,000 in 2016 thanks to the integration of 3D printing (it also achieved 100% return on investment (ROI) within only two months of installing the printers), and is hoping to increase its savings to $200,000 for 2017.

Jos Burger, CEO of Ultimaker, said: ”The automotive industry has been a pioneer in the use of additive manufacturing to drive efficiencies, and Volkswagen Autoeuropa is a prime example of this type of forward-looking approach. We have seen on average a reduction of tool lead time from sixty to just six days, which dramatically increases productivity for manufacturers like Volkswagen.”

Thanks to 3D printing, the auto manufacturing plant has seen improvements on many fronts. The technology has not only improved customization (enabling the production of parts with complex geometries), but has also allowed for unlimited and on-demand design revisions, as well as faster lead times, cost savings, and increased accessibility.

In other words, the 3D printing technology has been smoothly integrated into the facility’s operations with a small initial investment, simple scalability, and no steep learning curve for workers.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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