The SLM Solutions Group AG has collaborated closely with AUDI AG for quite some time. The company uses the selective laser melting process to manufacture parts for prototypes and spare parts requested extremely rarely. For example, the water adapters of the Audi W12 engine are manufactured on demand with the SLM 280.
The metal-based additive manufacturing technology opens up completely new ways in the areas of development, design and production, and is now also systematically used in various areas of the automotive industry. The biggest advantage of this process is the realization of highly complex components, which cannot be produced with existing manufacturing processes or only at high costs. As a rule of thumb, the smaller, more complex and less cost-sensitive a component is, the more it is suitable for 3D printing.
AUDI AG has taken advantage of these favorable conditions and uses metal 3D printing for special application areas. In exclusive series, the first components are already being manufactured using the additive SLM method, as well as rarely requested, original spare parts, for example the water adapter for the Audi W12 engine. Dr. Alexander Schmid, After Sales Manager at AUDI AG stated, “Manufacturing on demand is a vision for us to ensure supply with original spare parts, which are required less often, economically and sustainably in the future. Regional printing centers would simplify logistics and warehousing.”
The machines of the SLM 280 series have proved particularly interesting in the automotive industry. The machine creates high-quality metal parts based on 3D CAD data. Measuring 280 x 280 x 365 mm, the machine provides one of the largest construction spaces in its class as well as patented multi-beam technology. The powerful 700W lasers, which expose the build field during the build process via 3D scan optics, shorten build times with excellent productivity, high quality and safe powder handling.
Prototyping has already revolutionized the technology because a component can be transferred directly from design drawings into reality. Harald Eibisch in the Technology Development Department at AUDI AG, noted, “The new constructive freedoms provided by this technology are especially interesting. Components for prototypes and spare parts requested extremely rarely are better suited for SLM processes than conventional manufacturing procedures thanks to the benefits of free geometric design. The load capacity of the components is comparable with parts manufactured using traditional methods.” The water adapter of the W12 engine also shows that 3D printing sets no limits in terms of loads. There is no direct disadvantage in the material properties, and even highly stressed parts such as pistons can be printed. Because material is applied layer by layer, you can specifically influence the microstructure, via which the mechanical properties differ significantly from conventionally produced components.
The research department attributes enormous importance to the topic of 3D printing. Dr. Ruben Heid in the Technology Development Department at AUDI AG, added, “According to a rule of thumb, a component is suitable for 3D printing when it is smaller, complex and not very cost-sensitive. The additive process provides us with plenty of leeway, for example, if a component is to handle additional functions such as cooling or current. The new procedure also provides benefits in weight reduction.”
Ralf Frohwerk, Global Head of Business Development at SLM Solutions Group AG confirmed, “The trust of automobile manufacturers in metal-based 3D printing is increasing daily. Thanks to a growing understanding of “real and meaningful,” 3D-suitable designing, previously unimaginable designs for vehicle parts are being created. Knowing that nearly every automaker also has vehicle programs with numbers of pieces under 2000 – 3000 units per year in its portfolio, there are also already aluminum die cast components today, for example, that can be produced more economically using additive processes.