3D printing is paving the way for car manufacturers to make water pumps, end parts and high-end personal touches.
The automotive industry was the birthplace of 3D printing applications. Today, new developments herald a relationship revival. Two big names in the automotive business, BMW (ETR:BMW) and Rolls-Royce (LON:RR), who use BMW technology to wire their cars, are leading the way in 3D design and engineering.
Jens Ertel, head of the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Center, says that “additive technologies will be one of the main production methods of the future for the BMW Group – with promising potential. The integration of additively manufactured components into Rolls-Royce series production is another important milestone for us on the road to using this method on a large scale.” The Rolls-Royce Phantom includes 10,000 3D-printed parts.
Prototyping to Manufacturing
Remember rapid prototyping? No? That was the name for 3D printing. Back in the day BMW used the technology for product predevelopment in order to have show models and dummy vehicles to test on.
Thanks to advances in machine technologies and materials, 3D printing can now address car design specifications.
BMW also enjoyed more efficient mass production as early adopters of metal 3D printing. When it comes to racing, a millimetre each way can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. By 3D printing the parts, anomalies and errors are eliminated. A water pump wheel first came to market in 2010 and is still used in racecars today. Ertel says the “high-precision component, which is subject to high stresses, consists of an aluminium alloy and has previously proven its worth in the tough environment of motorsports”.
Heading down the driverless, electric avenue goes hand in hand with the environmentally conscious 3D printing technology. Following in Tesla’s footsteps to achieve autonomous driving, Torsten Müller-Ӧtvӧs, Rolls-Royce CEO and his chief designer Giles Taylor, are positive about the road safety of the future with self-driving cars. They will be electric too but Müller-Ӧtvӧs is keen to reassure customers that “a Rolls-Royce is a Rolls-Royce”, despite zero emissions. In their bid to be eco-friendly, the brand will not be compromised.
3D technology allows the customer to really be part of the process, well beyond personalized number plates and picking out seat cover colours.
BMW have started to use continuous liquid interface production (CLIP), a technique that prints parts in a matter of minutes. Forgot where you parked your car? Just look for your name badge on the side indicators.
You might think that Rolls-Royce is an anachronistic, redundant relic in the modern age, considering the tiny percentage of the population who own a chauffeur or have the disposable income. Müller-Ӧtvӧs disagrees. He thinks their success lies in a tailored approach. He envisages that “better 3D printing devices will allow us to 3D print big body panels and that is basically the idea Giles Taylor put into our Vision car, 103EX. Our vision is that we can coach-build bodies. That will deliver maximum individualization.”
Rolls-Royce have a team purely for Bespoke engineering: “That is part of the future of luxury. With our Bespoke, you really have all opportunities sitting with our designers”. If you can think of a theme, the computer can print something truly unique, just for you.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Emma Harwood, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.