Apr. 29, 2015 | By Simon

Whether being used to create helicopter parts or an entire car, additive manufacturing technologies have been used in the transportation industry for years - however the high cost of using the various technologies in a production setting rarely justified the expense of creating one-of-a-kind parts from scratch … until now.  

Thanks to recent developments in multiple methods of additive manufacturing, using these processes is starting to make sense for some products that are either produced in limited numbers or need to be customized on a per-product basis.  

Among other companies who have turned to additive manufacturing technologies to bring their product concepts to life over the years is German automaker BMW.  In the last year alone, the company has created custom 3D printed thumbs for their factory workers to help prevent injuries, used 3D printing to create student-designed concept cars and has even made strides towards 3D printing a biodegradable concept car.  

Now, the Munich-based company is getting ready for the current season of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) and in doing so, is also celebrating the production of their 500th water pump wheel that was made using additive manufacturing technology.  

The high-precision race car part, which spends the majority of its usage under high-stress conditions, is made of an aluminum alloy and has proven its worth over the years under the high demands of high-speed car racing.  According to the company,    “all pump gear works flawlessly, confirming (our) leading role when it comes to additive production methods.”

To create the water pump wheels, the company’s engineers employ the use of Selective Laser Melting (SLM), a procedure that creates a physical object from a generative layering process consisting of laser-fused metal powder in .05 millimeter increments.  

Compared to most existing consumer 3D printing processes, the SLM procedure is capable of producing sturdy metal parts that are ready to meet the high demands of everything from helicopter flights to car races.

As for BMW’s water pump wheel, the part is one piece of the high-performance powertrain that runs up to 70 percent of the time under full load.  Because of the extreme conditions associated with the car’s performance in a race environment, the BMW engineering team developed the one-piece metal water pump wheel to replace the previous plastic part back in 2010 - and there have been no regrets.   

“(The process )allows for the inclusion of design refinements in the six-bladed centrifugal pump wheel, whose implementation would require much greater effort with other production methods,” says the company.  

“With the new method, it was possible to achieve ideal aerodynamics of the component for the DTM race series. Secondly, no complex tools or molds are needed, which makes the demand-oriented production more cost-effective.”

Additionally, the natural ability to customize an object before printing has allowed the company to re-shape the water pump wheel as needed over the process of refining other design elements of the car and engine.

The part - which is expected to continue to be printed using the SLM production method -  will be used on the DTM racecars and in the Z4 GT3 customer vehicles.   



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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