Audi harnesses SLM Solutions metal 3D printing for spare parts and prototypes

SLM Solutions has revealed automotive giant, Audi has been using its selective laser melting process to produce prototypes and manufacture rarely-requested spare parts.

The German company has sought to adopt SLM’s metal 3D printing technology to target a number of automotive applications. Typically, it is the smaller, more complex, and less cost-sensitive components, like the water adapters for the Audi W12 engine, which are produced on-demand by Audi with an SLM 280 machine, that are most suitable to be additively manufactured.

Audi has been utilising metal additive manufacturing for special application areas, able to manufacture sizable components on the 280 x 280 x 365 mm3 build space. Thanks to the machines’ powerful 700W lasers build times are reduced, enhancing productivity while maintaining quality. It is enabling Audi to manufacture on-demand, supplying spare parts as and when they are needed, rather than producing them in advance and putting them into storage. Simplifying logistics and warehousing, implementing an on-demand production approach brings both economical and sustainability benefits, in addition to the rapid prototyping and greater creative freedom 3D printing technology is renowned for.

“The new constructive freedoms provided by this technology are especially interesting,” Harald Eibisch, in the Technology Development Department at AUDI AG, said. “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.”

“According to a rule of thumb, a component is suitable for 3D printing when it is smaller, complex and not very cost-sensitive,” added Ruben Heid, from the Technology Development Department at Audi AG. “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.”

The water adapter of the W12 engine, SLM and Audi say, is a fine example of 3D printing setting no limits in terms of loads. They have seen 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, the microstructure can be specifically influenced via which the mechanical properties differ significantly from conventionally produced components.

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