A recent report on the present and future prospects of additive manufacturing by the German automaker, Volkswagen, stated that the primary benefit of AM has been only limited to prototyping and single piece production. Metal additive manufacturing has opened up new avenues but the progress thus far is limited to one-off parts for exclusive vehicles.
Volkswagen is looking at the future and it puts a lot of weight on the On-Demand replacement part production business. According to Alexander Schmid, from Audi AG, “Reproduction on demand is a vision for us. In the future, we will be able to economically and sustainably ensure supply with fewer original replacement parts. Regional printing centres will simplify logistics and warehousing operations.”
However, Jorg Spindler, the Head of Equipment and Metal Forming at Audi Competence Center, believes that metal additive manufacturing is not a replacement technology, at least as of now. It will in fact help create new possibilities and even help improve the existing processes. It will lead to considerable progress in augmenting the current processes without completely replacing them but co-existing with them.
On another front, the Volkswagen group is carrying out a research for reducing the number of separate parts used in any component. Reportedly, the number of individual parts are reduced by more than 70% thereby reducing its weight without compromising the durability or quality of the part. This is a major field where the company feels additive manufacturing can weigh in heavily.
Currently, additive manufacturing cannot match the mass production technique and the short batch productions printed via 3D printing are relatively costly. With the help of process engineering the quantity of batch production will increase and it will probably be closer to mass production.
Volkswagen has identified the potential avenues for the application of metal additive manufacturing. The most important factors in favour of 3D printing are its weight saving and easy manufacturability of complex structures. But Volkswagen expects that metal AM will remain restricted to specific area for the time being mainly due to its low production speed and high cost. Volkswagen also stated that the quality and the dimensional accuracy also has to improve before it can really be applied for mass production.