Fully automated AM line developed for automotive series production

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Separation of printed components in an automated separation station on the new production line. (Image: BMW Group)

BMW Group has successfully industrialised and digitalisated additive manufacturing (AM) for automotive series production.

A digitally connected, fully automated 3D printing production line has been set up and prepared for automotive standard production at its Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleißheim, Germany. An additional line has been established at GKN Powder Metallurgy’s site in Bonn.

The achievement is the result of a three-year undertaking by BMW Group and its partners within the IDAM (Industrialisation and Digitalisation of Additive Manufacturing) project, which aimed to revolutionise metal 3D printing in standard automotive production.

The new lines will use laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) technology to produce around 50,000 components per year in common part production, as well as more than 10,000 individual and new parts. Using LPBF means certain tools are no longer required and new design possibilities can be realised – which greatly increases flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

Complete autonomy

The project partners quickly realised that ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions would not meet the ambitious project goals and fulfil the associated productivity and quality requirements of the automotive industry. Thus, a large part of the production lines’ modules had to be completely redeveloped on a digital and physical level. The result was a completely automated and digitally connected production line.

Fully automated driverless transport systems are used to carry the 3D printers’ mobile build chambers and metal powder between modules in the two new IDAM production lines. Manufactured components are then transported to specially designed post processing stations, which are also fully automated. The machines are orchestrated by a central control unit that consolidates all production data from individual line modules to ensure maximum productivity and quality.

Fully automated driverless transport systems are used to carry components between the modules on the new production lines. (Image: BMW Group)

Quality assurance of the finished parts takes place in-line, during the laser melting process, using sensors. This includes checking emissions from the molten pool with a CMOS camera and pyrometer. AI algorithms are used to correlate the data collected with actual component quality. This means process deviations can already be identified during production and component quality evaluated.

Innovation through collaboration

The success of the IDAM project was down to its twelve partners offering a broad range of interdisciplinary expertise: Aconity GmbH, BMW Group, Concept Reply GmbH, Fraunhofer ILT, GKN Powder Metallurgy, Intec GmbH, Kinexon Industries GmbH, Myrenne GmbH, RWTH Aachen’s Chair for Digital Additive Production DAP, Technical University of Munich’s Chair of Metal Forming and Casting, Schmitz Spezialmaschinenbau GmbH, and Volkmann GmbH.

Printed components being removed from the build chamber and seperated – all autonomously. (Image: BMW Group)

From owner-managed SMEs to large corporations, a spirit was established from the first day of the project, as the partners jointly aspired toward success: learning from each other, working together on innovative solutions, and developing the individual strengths of each partner to the best possible extent – for IDAM, these were the keys to success.

‘From the very first day of the project, you could feel the team spirit among the partners. Learning from one another, developing innovative solutions together and making the best use of each partner's individual strengths – those were key to successful industrialisation and digitalisation of additive manufacturing,’ said Felix Haeckel, consortium leader and BMW Group project manager.

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