Nov 13, 2015 | By Kira

Staying true to their slogan Vorsprung durch Technik (Advancement through Technology), German carmaker Audi is reportedly experimenting with making complex parts out of metal 3D printing technology, and plans to eventually fit them to production cars.

While the use of 3D printing in auto manufacturing is not new—we recently reported on Ford’s use of additive manufacturing techniques to produce prototypes for some of its vehicles—advancements in the highly coveted area of metal 3D printing mean that in the near future, big-name car companies will be able to use 3D printed pieces as end-use parts.

In particular, the metal 3D printing process Audi has been experimenting with is ideal for manufacturing geometrically complex parts that would be time-consuming and expensive to produce through traditional means such as casting. The 3D printed components, made from a fine metallic powder comprised of steel and aluminium beads less than half the thickness of human hair, are also denser than cast items.

Audi’s current large-format metal 3D printer can manufacture objects up to 240 mm in length and 200 mm wide, however the carmaker has said that they are planning to incorporate even larger 3D printing machines in the future.

"Together with our research partner, we keep pushing the envelope when it comes to new manufacturing processes", said Audi’s Hubert Watl, who is responsible for tool making. "One of our aims is to use3D metal parts for regular car production."

Just last week, Audi took their 3D printing technology for a test drive by recreating a 1:2 scale 1936 Auto Union Type C race car out of metal 3D printed parts, capable of seating an actual driver. At that time, the company had said they were creating ‘important synergies’ with other members of the Volkswagen Group, its parent company, and that together they were seeking ways of implementing metallic 3D printing and sand printing into the production of vehicles.

Audi's 3D printed 1936 Auto Union Type C race car replica

Metal 3D printing is one of the hottest areas for development right now, and one of the most promising applications for 3D printing technology, particularly in the aerospace and automotive sectors, which require specific, geometrically complex parts made with mechanically-sound materials.

In fact, a recent report by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing showed that 84% of respondents said that of all the materials they’d like to see developed in additive manufacturing, strong, lightweight metals ranked the highest. And recently, Israeli company Xjet announced that they are developing a proprietary inkjet printing technology for liquid metal that could make the large scale manufacturing of custom metal parts cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

At this rate, more carmakers and other large manufacturers could soon be able to use 3D printing technology for more than just prototypes, but for end-use parts as well. And should Audi ever need a new slogan, ‘Advancement through [3D Printing] Technology’ will probably fit the bill.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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