May 28, 2017 | By Julia

While 3D printing is becoming increasingly established in the automotive industry as a valuable tool for prototyping, a growing number of car manufacturers are now looking to broaden those possibilities even further. Recently, German car company Volkswagen joined those ranks, launching a new initiative that will use 3D printing as a viable avenue for producing spare car parts.

Earlier last week, the Volkswagen Group announced a new pilot project in collaboration with the Department of Development and Technological Planning at Volkswagen AG: the goal is to produce the first sellable spare Volkswagen part exclusively using 3D printing.

The decision is particularly timely now, as many classic cars risk facing obsolescence due to irreplaceable and rapidly aging parts. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find and replace those parts, even for the original manufacturers themselves.

But according to Tobias Pape, a Purchasing Manager for classic Volkswagen parts, the solution is to be found in 3D printing, a technology which he says opens a wide range of new possibilities. “3D printing in the Volkswagen Group has been used so far only in the areas of prototype and equipment construction. Now we want to apply this internal know-how to the production of spare parts,” Pape said.

In order to demonstrate and test the full capabilities of 3D printing, Pape and his team deemed that a spare part produced in this pilot project must meet three requirements: it must not be visible once installed; it must be completely safe; and it must be as small as possible.

The first piece selected was subsequently a Volkswagen Corrado adapter with leather upholstery, located between the regulator and the handle. An important yet small component, the Corrado adapter prevents the handle from damaging the interior leather lining of the door.

“Reproducing this adapter was a real challenge,” said Pape. “Particularly because of the fine internal and external grooving, the gear requires an extreme level of precision.” The highly rare piece was initially manufactured at Volkswagen’s Braunschweig plant, and is only as large as a 1 cent coin.

Gathering all the data, Pape’s colleagues at the Tooling Development department in Wolfsburg began producing prototypes with varying degrees of quality, but which retained some minor deviations. After a few solid attempts at re-adjusting and re-polishing, the result was still unsatisfactory. Finally, the team elected to taken another step back, and “pre-treat” the scanned data before sending it to the 3D printer.

This process is currently underway, while still incorporating diagrams of the original piece. The exact outcome remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Pape’s team has already learned a lot. Their biggest lesson? That carrying out series production using 3D printing technology requires, and indeed goes hand in hand with, a serious dose of classic engineering arts.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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