Nov 18, 2015 | By Alec

3D printing is hot in a lot of industries right now, and is even increasingly finding its way into the workshops and factories of major car manufacturers. A number are already using 3D printers as a prototyping tool, but the innovative German car giants Opel have already taken the technology to the factory floor. They have just revealed that they are using Stratasys 3D printers to 3D print high quality assembly tools already used on a number of vehicles, including the Opel Adam. But even more remarkable is the efficiency of this equipment, as the company estimates they are saving up to 90 percent in assembly tool production costs by 3D printing it themselves.

Opel, as you doubtlessly know, is a huge player in the European and worldwide automobile industry. Having been around since 1862, they produce large numbers of vehicles every year, also under brand names Buick and Vauxhall. Over 2014, they were the third-largest car brand in Europe, selling over a million vehicles (including under the Vauxhall brand).

Opel says that efficient and innovative production methods are key to producing such large volumes of cars, which is why their International Technical Development Center has adopted a 3D printing for a range of manufacturing and assembly tools. As you can see in the clip below, these are already being used on the factory floor, especially on their critically acclaimed Adam hatchback. Among the applications are tools to precisely attach components to vehicles, including the rocker molding, the roof spoilers, and the ‘Adam’ lettering on the rear window. 3D printed tools are also being used to assemble the glass and retractable roofs, they add.

According to Sascha Holl, Virtual Simulation Engineer at Opel, these tools are not just speeding up the assembly process, but are also offering designers new dimensions to work in. ‘Besides the cut in tool production time and considerable cost reductions, customized tools are a third important benefit achieved with 3D printing. We are now able to produce more complex shapes than we could via conventional manufacturing. This crucially allows us to adapt the tool to the worker and the specific car,’ he says. It even enables assembly line workers to become involved in the design process itself, leading to further efficiency by highlighting issues before new tools are taken into production.

So far, that efficiency seems to be key in what Stratasys 3D printers are bringing to the Opel factories. Aside from making tools more effective, they are also becoming more available – a new manufacturing tool is manufactured in a matter of hours, making testing and improving a very quick reality. Within a single day, a newly designed tool can already be taken into use.

Stratasys, in turn, emphasizes that this is just an example of what 3D printing can bring to the automobile industry. ‘Cases like Opel emphasize the massive impact that low risk, high-reward 3D printed parts – such as manufacturing tools – can have on production efficiency,’ Andy Middleton, the President of Stratasys, says. ‘The capability to produce such items on-demand at a reduced costs can significantly accelerate time-to-production and give businesses that competitive edge. Combine that with the ability to customize tools efficiently, as well as create complex geometries, and you can see why Opel is indicative of the way in which additive manufacturing is transforming our customer’s production operations.’ Indeed, this suggests that the real role 3D printing can play in large scale manufacturing is in the little things that increase efficiency and reduce costs – and in those areas a lot of work can still be done.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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