Absolutely automated 3D steel printing in collection

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IDAM Project on Target: Fully Automated Sequential 3D Metal Printing

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BMW has implemented the IDAM research project with eleven partners. Objective: Manufacturing and digitization of additive manufacturing processes. The project ended – with what result?

At Project Idam, BMW and eleven other project partners have turned selective laser melting into a highly automated, industrial chain process in the automotive industry.

(Photo: Harry Zdera/BMW)

The goal set three years ago at the start of the IDAM project was achieved. A fully automated digitally connected 3D metal printing production line is now operating on the campus of “BMW Group Additive Manufacturing” in Oberschleißheim near Munich. It’s the latest of a total of 30 production systems for various 3D printing processes that have been installed there – and so far the only system that can be fully automated around the clock. The system can produce up to 50,000 parts per year using laser beam melting (LPBF laser powder layer fusion) and 10,000 individual parts and replacement parts.

However, the system is not yet fully suitable for serial production. It is a glimpse into the future. With this system, the 12 IDAM project partners from industry and science have for the first time moved 3D metal printing into a highly automated, industrial chain process in the automotive industry. Another line operates in the GKN Powder Metallurgy Partner Consortium in Bonn.

Modular principle plus independent DTS

The line developed in the IDAM project (IDAM, Manufacturing and Digitization of Additive Manufacturing) draws the entire chain of the process: from the preparation of digital production to the manufacture of components and post-processing. It is built according to the modular principle. The three individual workstations – 3D printer, ingredient powder removal, powder preparation and post-processing – are designed as individual units. It is loaded using a highly flexible, self-driving transmission system. The individual process steps can be flexibly controlled and thus optimized. This concept also enables simple and fast scalability.

Milan Nedelkovic, Member of the BMW Group Production Management Board:

The AGV transfers the 3D printer’s mobile construction rooms fully automatically between units of the IDAM production line. The machines are regulated by a central console, where all production data from individual line units converge. This ensures maximum productivity and quality.

The quality of the finished parts is ensured inline during the laser melting process using sensors. Among other things, emissions from the melt pool are examined using a CMOS camera and pyrometer. AI algorithms correlate recorded data with real component quality – and truly learn about process deviations and actual component quality during production.

Costs halved, but still expensive

The completion of the project, which was celebrated on May 24 with the participation of all the consortium partners on the campus, is also the starting signal for the sequential implementation at BMW. Because even though costs in the IDAM project can be halved compared to previous methods of producing components using laser beam melting, the costs of applying large-scale chains are still unavailable. Project manager Felix Haykal sees cost parity compared to traditional manufacturing processes, such as aluminum casting, at only 100,000 components per year.

With additive manufacturing, the field of application of technical ceramics is expanding.  For example, the so-called Lüneburg lens is used for communication between self-driving vehicles.

The prerequisite for that: “Costs have to come down even more,” says Jens Ertell, president of the AM campus, which employs about 80 people. Maximilian Meixlsperger, group leader at AM Campus, expects that in a production chain as small as 10,000 components per year, cost parity will be reached in about three years. The expert does not see the introduction of fully automated 3D-printer production lines into the BMW production network until the end of the decade.

3D printers are getting faster and faster

Among other things, reinforcing elements for the front apron of the new BMW M4 CSL were produced in the new line. The system currently needs 38 hours to produce 70 parts in one run. “The next, faster generation of the system is ready,” Meixlsperger explains. With this said, processing time can be increased by a factor of five and thus cost-effective as well.

GKN Expand Additive Manufacturing Business

In the project, BMW focused on aluminum components for the production of small series, while GKN focused on steel components for single production and spare parts. At the same time, GKN experts have developed a new steel alloy that, according to a company spokesperson, “allows a wide range of applications in additive manufacturing.”

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GKN is currently expanding AM capabilities at locations in Bonn and Langensalza. According to a company spokesperson, the order volume in this business is expected to increase from around four million euros today to 50 million euros by 2027.

Additive manufacturing: an ‘integral part’ of BMW’s digitization strategy

BMW is also pursuing ambitious goals through this process: “In the future, new technologies like this can reduce production times and further exploit the potential of tool-free manufacturing methods,” said Milan Nedelkovic, Member of the Production Management Board at BMW AG, at AM Campus opening in June 2020. “Additive manufacturing is an integral part of our global production system and is firmly anchored in our digitization strategy,” he explained. With the successful completion of the IDAM project, BMW has now brought its 3D metal printing production series straight home.

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