Nov 19, 2015 | By Benedict

German automobile company BMW is celebrating 25 years of additive manufacturing. The car giant first introduced 3D printing technology to its Rapid Technologies Center in 1990, before building its first 3D printed prototype parts on a stereolithography machine in 1991.

“The targeted use of innovative additive procedures at an early stage has made us one of the pioneers and leaders in 3D printing over the past years,” explained Dr. Udo Haenle, BMW’s head of Production Strategy, Technical Integration and Pilot Plant. “At the BMW Group Technology Office in Mountain View, Silicon Valley/USA, we are now even conducting a first test run with the new CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) technology.”

Earlier this year, BMW unveiled its 500th 3D printed water pump wheel for DTM race cars, produced using Selective Laser Melting techniques. The SLM procedure, which the company have used for several years, produces a sturdy metal component able to withstand high pressure. The company has also been using additive manufacturing technology for many other purposes, such as the development of small batches of complex and customized components. As with most uses of additive manufacturing within the automotive industry, most of BMW’s 3D printed components are used in prototyping, testing and concept car creation.

As well as being incredibly useful at the pre-production stage, additive techniques can also be used to produce new parts for old vehicles. Classic BMWs, whose parts are no longer manufactured, can be restored with one-off, 3D printed versions of those parts, and the company aims to provide an even more comprehensive service of this kind in the future.

Although primarily known for their iconic vehicles, BMW has also used 3D printing for uses outside of car manufacturing. In 2012, workers at the company’s Rapid Technologies Center used additive manufacturing to design custom wheelchair seats for the British Paralympics basketball team. To produce a fully tailored product, BMW made 3D scans of each player’s body. The data from these scans was then used to create a perfectly shaped seat for each player.

The car manufacturer continues to look for ways in which 3D printing can be used within the company. “Components made with additive manufacturing give us a lot of freedom in the forming process; they can be produced both quickly and in high quality,” said Haenle. “We see major potential for the future application in series production as well as for new customer offerings, such as personalized vehicle parts, or the spare parts supply.”

Perhaps the German automobile company and 3D printing will celebrate their 50th anniversary with a fully 3D printed car. Keep following 3Ders and we’ll let you know in 2040.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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