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Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) software capable of monitoring the metal 3D printing process in real-time.  Nicknamed Peregrine, the algorithm assesses the quality of parts during production in a cost-effective alternative to characterization equipment. The program is part of ORNL’s broader “digital thread,” which closely tracks and analyzes data […]

BMW Opens €15 Million Additive Manufacturing Campus

BMW Group has opened its new Additive Manufacturing Campus, which combines 3D printing for research, prototyping and series parts production in a single facility. The €15 million investment is meant to further the vehicle giant’s position in the use of additive manufacturing (AM) for the automotive industry.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Milan Nedeljković, BMW AG Board Member for Production, said, “Additive manufacturing is already an integral part of our worldwide production system today, and established in our digitalisation strategy. In the future, new technologies of this kind will shorten production times even further and allow us to benefit even more fully from the potential of toolless manufacturing.”

In 2019, BMW Group 3D printed roughly 300,000 parts. The Additive Manufacturing Campus employs 80 workers running about 50 industrial AM systems, including metals and plastics. Beyond the center, BMW runs 50 other 3D printers globally.

Within the site, there is a “pre-development” team that is dedicated to improving new technologies and materials for use throughout BMW, with a focus on automating process chains. By reducing manual labor, the unit aims to reduce the cost of 3D printing and make it better suited for industrial scale.

An example of the BMW Group’s work in this area is the Industrialisation and Digitisation of Additive Manufacturing for Automotive Series Production (IDAM) project, funded in part by the German Ministry of Education and Research. With the IDAM project, a production line, from production preparation to manufacturing and reworking of parts, is being established at the Additive Manufacturing Campus. The IDAM team will use the production line to create 50,000 series parts annually with 3D printing, including more than 10,000 individual and spare components.

Demonstrating automation work at BMW, this image shows the use of a robotic arm with an HP Multi Jet Fusion system.

Also at the campus, BMW will be performing its work in the POLYLINE project, in which process steps for the series production of plastic parts are connected digitally and a quality assurance strategy is developed to ensure consistent quality throughout the process chain. The 15 members of the POLYLINE consortium will use the facility to create and test what they consider a “future-proof” automated production line for 3D printing plastic parts that is digitally linked. So far, the project members suggest that, through this work, manufacturing costs can be cut by 50 percent, while improving the stability of 3D printing and sustainability of production overall.

The Campus will also provide consulting and training courses for workers throughout the BMW Group as a means of successfully rolling out the various AM technologies and methodologies.

BMW has been involved in 3D printing for nearly 30 years, first prototyping parts for concept cars in 1991 before using AM for small series production in 2010. Namely, metal powder bed fusion was used to 3D print water pump wheels for DTM race cars. Since then, the company has 3D printed parts for the Rolls-Royce Phantom, BMW i8 Roadster and MINI John Cooper Works GP, a vehicle that features four 3D-printed components standard.

The 3D-printed water pump wheel for DTM.

In addition to part production, the corporation has been investing in new AM technologies via its venture capital arm, BMW i Ventures. In 2016, the division funded Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis for continuous digital light processing. The next year, it contributed to Desktop Metal, which has since released metal binder jetting, bound metal deposition and carbon fiber 3D printing systems.

Other investments have gone to digital manufacturing platform Xometry and German startup ELISE, dedicated to automating product design. The company can purportedly save up to 90 percent in design time by producing part “DNA” that encompasses such information as technical and load requirements, as well as manufacturing restrictions, optimization parameters and costs. The DNA can be used to then automatically create optimized parts.

The Studio system from Desktop Metal installed at the Additive Manufacturing Campus.

All of this is directed toward BMW’s larger goals for AM and automation, which Daniel Schäfer, Senior Vice President for Production Integration and Pilot Plant at the BMW Group, spoke to: “Our goal is to industrialise 3D printing methods more and more for automotive production, and to implement new automation concepts in the process chain. This will allow us to streamline component manufacturing for series production and speed up development. At the same time, we are collaborating with vehicle development, component production, purchasing and the supplier network, as well as various other areas of the company to systematically integrate the technology and utilise it effectively.”

As described here, BMW has demonstrated expert use of the technology, just as one would expect. When it comes to series production, so far 3D printing has been limited to luxury and sports vehicles. Given its experience and expertise, however, it seems relatively safe to assume that it will be among those pushing series production of AM to more mainstream product lines. By reducing costs through the projects described above and by adopting newer technologies designed for large batch production, we may ultimately see 3D-printed end parts make it into products that the average consumer might interact with.

[Images/Source: BMW Group.]

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