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VW Looking to 3D Printing for Future Products

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

CHICAGO – Volkswagen AG is embracing 3D printing to be competitive with other automakers, an executive said Tuesday at the International Manufacturing Technology Show.

3D printing can “introduce advantages to Volkswagen products,” Martin Goede, VW’s head of technology and development, said at an HP Inc. press conference. The technology has the potential to provide “functional freedom” in developing parts and models, he said.

VW has agreed to be a customer of HP’s new HP Metal Jet technology. HP Metal Jet will be used to print high-volume, stainless steel parts. It’s part of HP’s expanding additive manufacturing portfolio.

Additive manufacturing creates parts layer by layer from a digital design. The technology has been embraced by aerospace companies such as Boeing Co. and Airbus as a way to produce parts more efficiently, especially parts made from expensive materials such as titanium.

The auto industry has also looked into 3D printing. But automakers and suppliers have higher volumes than makers of aircraft, which has held back adopting the technology.

With 3D printing, “You could think about” substituting printed parts for stamped parts, Goede said. “We would like to step in and begin the journey.”

HP has established HP Metal Jet partnerships with GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech. GKN will deploy the technology at its factories to service customers including Volkswagen AG. Parmatech will use HP Metal Jet to make parts for customers including makers of medical devices.

‘A Path’

“There’s a path to mass production,” Stephen Nigro, president of HP’s 3D printing unit, said at the press conference. “You start with design and work it through the whole thing.”

Additive manufacturing has enabled new designs, where fewer parts are needed compared with conventional manufacturing. General Electric Co. became involved with 3D printing when it developed a 3D-printed fuel nozzle for aircraft engines. Since then it has developed its Advanced Turboprop engine, which reduces the number of parts from 855 to 12.

HP plans to initially offer HP Metal Jet as a manufacturing service. Potential customers will submit part designs to see if they’re compatible with the technology. The actual parts would then be made by either GKN or Parmatech. HP plans to begin selling HP Metal Jet printers on a limited basis in 2019 and expand such sales in 2020.

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