3D printing – production hot off the press

German automobile manufacturer Opel has started using printers for manufacturing hardware. In Rüsselsheim, the team of virtual simulation engineer Sascha Holl has managed to reduce the production cost of tools by up to 90 % thanks to 3D printing.

In Germany, automobile manufacturer Opel had recently caused a stir with his “Umparken im Kopf” campaign meaning to “repark” your brain. Anonymous billboards encouraged people to keep an open mind by dismantling common prejudices. Now Opel is reparking at their production site as well. The company has started using 3D printing for manufacturing hardware. In Rüsselsheim, the team of virtual simulation engineer Sascha Holl develops assembling tools that are used in the production of the models Adam and Adam Rocks. On the Opel-Blog, he explains how this printing process works:

How exactly do you apply these 3D printed tools?

For example, for the Adam Rocks we use an assembly jig from the 3D printer that helps us to apply the logotype on the side window. Previously, that had to be done in a much more complicated way using a casting mold. For the windshield, we created a 3D-printed inlet guide to simplify the mounting process and help ensure a precise alignment.

Also, when fastening the chrome step plate on Adam Rocks door openings or installing the standard Swing Top canvas roof, the 3D tools save us a great deal of work. At the moment we use around 40 of such assembly aids and jigs.

Which materials do you use?

We operate two different printing processes: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). For FDM, light and robust plastic is melted and laid down in successive layers that are only 0.25 mm thick. Hollow spaces and overhangs are automatically treated with a filling material, which is then washed away. You can compare the process to bridge or balustrade construction. There, high or protruding elements must also be shored up and supported until everything has hardened off. Only then is the supporting framework removed.

But we only use the FDM printer for smaller tools and prototypes during tool development. However, with the SLS facility huge assembly jigs can be produced that may even consists of different connected parts. In this process, polyamide powder is melted with laser and laid down in successive layers as well.

Opel 3D

Why use 3D printing at all?

This process is as easy as it is brilliant! Previously, we fabricated the small number of jigs required in final assembly, for example for the Adam logotype, manually in an elaborate process using a milled cast and resin. Thanks to 3D printing, we can reduce the production cost of these aids by up to 90 %. In addition, the printed tools are ready to use after just about four to eight hours, and are up to 70 % lighter in weight but still very robust.

We can adapt the tools for each assembly situation, as well as make them user-friendly for our colleagues on the line. And that’s only a few clicks at the computer. I can then simply send the ready data set to our local printer which manufactures the tools. If the part is needed at a different site anywhere in the world, the data could be exchanged via network – for example to the USA. It can then be easily printed on-site.

And what about the future?

We want to apply 3D print as often as possible. By now, even our colleagues at the paint-spray line use 3D printed spacers to keep open the engine hood during color application. Given recent developments, we can imagine not only printing tools from plastic, but also metall.


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