SLM Solutions Group AG, Lubeck, Germany, reports that its Selective Laser Melting (SLM) systems are being used by Audi AG for the metal Additive Manufacturing of components for special and exclusive automotive series, as well as in the production of components for prototypes and rare spare parts. Among the rare spare parts said to be produced using AM are the water adapters for the Audi W12 engine, now manufactured on-demand using an SLM®280 system.
Metal AM offers major advantages for the automotive industry in the areas of development, design and production, and has been adopted by several major automakers in recent years. Perhaps the greatest advantage of AM is its capability of producing highly complex shaped parts which would be impossible or very expensive to produce using conventional manufacturing processes. Due to the high cost of metal Additive Manufacturing, the technology is currently best suited for small, complex parts whose production is not cost-sensitive.
Dr Alexander Schmid, After Sales Manager at Audi, explained, “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 centres would simplify logistics and warehousing.” The ability to digitally send a part design and produce it by AM in a ‘regional printing centre’, rather than shipping the part itself, has been a driving factor in the technology’s adoption by many automakers to produce rarely-ordered spares.
In prototyping, metal AM enables the relatively rapid adjustment and production of multiple design iterations of a part. Harald Eibisch, a member of Audi’s Technology Development Department, stated, “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,” he added. According to Audi, the W12 engine’s SLM-produced water adapter shows that metal AM “sets no limits in terms of loads.” The company has identified no direct disadvantage in the material properties, and reported that even highly stressed parts such as pistons can be printed.
The SLM280 machine has a build chamber measuring 280 x 280 x 365 mm, said to be one of the largest construction spaces in its class, and uses SLM Solutions’ patented multi-beam technology. It is available in several configurations, providing single optics (1x 400 W or 1x 700 W), dual optics (1x 700 W and 1x 1000 W) and twin optics (2x 400 W or 2x 700 W). Depending on how the components are arranged, SLM Solutions states that an 80% higher build rate can be achieved.
Ralf Frohwerk, SLM Solutions’ Global Head of Business Development, commented, “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.”
Looking to the future of metal AM in the automotive industry, he stated, “Knowing that nearly every automaker also has vehicle programs with numbers of pieces less than 2000-3000 units per year in its portfolio, there are also already aluminium die cast components today, for example, that can be produced more economically using additive processes.”