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Successful Industrialisation and Digitalisation of Additive Manufacturing

The industrialisation and digitalisation of additive manufacturing (AM) for automotive series processes has been successful. A project consortium funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and led by the BMW Group was launched three years ago, with small and mid-sized enterprises, large companies and research institutes. The common goal was to revolutionise metal 3D printing in standard production of vehicles.

The 12 members of the consortium presented the successful implementation of the IDAM (Industrialisation and Digitalisation of Additive Manufacturing) project at the BMW Group Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleißheim, where a digitally connected, fully automated 3D printing production line has been set up and prepared for automotive standard production. An additional line is located at the company GKN Powder Metallurgy in Bonn, Germany.

Around 50,000 components per year can be manufactured cost-effectively in common part production, as well as more than 10,000 individual and new parts, by means of 3D printing using Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF): The starting material, metal powder, is remelted with a laser, layer by layer, at the site where the solid component needs to be created at each level. Using this 3D printing process means certain tools are no longer required and new design possibilities can be realised – which greatly increases flexibility.

Having started out from a concept outline in 2019, fully automated driverless transport systems (FTS) now carry the 3D printers’ mobile build chambers between modules in the IDAM production lines. The machines are orchestrated by a central control unit that consolidates all production data from individual line modules to ensure maximum productivity and quality.

Smart Monitoring of Processes

Over the course of the project, innovative concepts were developed for automated generation of 3D printing construction data. Fully automated modules now transport the processed metal powder to workstations where they prepare the material independently. Post-processing of the manufactured components takes place at specially designed stations that are also fully automated. The quality of the components is top priority. 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.

Successful implementation of the project called upon the expertise of all project partners. This was the only way to achieve digitalisation and automation in mechanical and plant engineering, in component design and in the area of metal 3D printing.

“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,” according to Felix Haeckel, consortium leader and BMW Group project manager.