BMW has officially opened its new Additive Manufacturing Campus. The new centre brings together production of prototype and series parts under one roof, along with research into new 3D printing technologies, and associate training for the global rollout of toolless production. The campus, which cost €15 million, will allow the BMW Group to develop its position as a technology leader in the utilisation of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry.
BMW first started the additive manufacturing of prototype parts back in 1991, for concept vehicles. By 2010, plastic-and metal-based processes were being rolled out, initially in smaller series, to produce items such as the additively manufactured water pump wheel in the DTM race cars. Further series production applications followed from 2012 on, with a range of components for the Rolls-Royce Phantom, BMW i8 Roadster (2017) and MINI John Cooper Works GP (2020), which contains no less than four 3D-printed components as standard.
Last year, the company produced about 300,000 parts by additive manufacturing. The Additive Manufacturing Campus currently employs up to 80 associates and operates about 50 industrial systems that work with metals and plastics. Another 50 systems are in operation at production sites around the world.
Access to the latest technologies is gained through long-standing partnerships with manufacturers and universities, and by successfully scouting for industry newcomers. Back in 2016, BMW i Ventures invested in the Silicon Valley-based company Carbon, whose Digital Light Synthesis technology achieved a breakthrough in planar processes, using a planar light projector to enable super-fast component production.
Further investments were made in 2017, when the company became involved with Desktop Metal, a start-up specialising in additive manufacturing of metal components and developing innovative, highly productive manufacturing procedures. Close collaborations with Desktop Metal continue. In the same year, BMW i Ventures invested in the US start-up Xometry, a platform for on-demand manufacturing.
The latest investment was in the German start-up ELISE, which allows engineers to produce component DNA containing all the technical requirements for the part, from load requirements and manufacturing restrictions to costs and potential optimisation parameters. ELISE then uses this DNA, along with established development tools, to automatically generate optimum components.
The pre-development unit of the Additive Manufacturing Campus optimises new technologies and materials for comprehensive use across the company. The main focus is on automating process chains that have previously required large amounts of manual work, to make 3D printing more economical and viable for use on an industrial scale over the longer term.
The Additive Manufacturing Campus is also making a contribution to series production of plastic parts. In the POLYLINE project, the focus is on aspects such as digitally linking process steps, and the development of a consistent quality assurance methodology for the entire process chain. The Additive Manufacturing Campus will provide the backdrop for the project’s consortium of 15 partners to develop and test a future-proof, fully linked, automated production line for plastic components. Findings from the project are expected to help reduce manufacturing costs by as much as 50 percent, making a vital contribution to series production. In addition, integrated quality assurance methods will increase the stability of technologies and make manufacturing more sustainable.
Along with component manufacturing, the team at the Campus provides personal consultations and training courses for BMW facilities around the world that all manufacture 3D-printing components already, be it for prototypes or production, or as country-specific parts for customers.