Polymer 3D printing in automotive production

German automobile manufacturer Audi is expanding the use of 3D printers in production. Custom-designed and locally printed auxiliary tools from the 3D printer help employees on the production lines. A separate department will be responsible for implementation.

The team at the analysis center has already firmly established polymer 3D printing.The team develops ideas for new or optimized tools in close collaboration with their colleagues on the production line. The team under project manager Waldemar Hirsch design the tools on site and print them on the 3D printer.

During a one-week workshop last December, the expert team trialed the use of this fast, convenient service for volume production in the factory. The team identified several hundred applications where printed auxiliary tools offer substantial savings potential.

“By establishing a separate specialist department for 3D printing, we are professionalizing this already successful project. Even more employees will be able to benefit from the experienced expert team and the custom auxiliary tools in the future,” said Helmut Stettner, the Neckarsulm plant manager. But Audi is also using the project to actively drive cultural change. The employees on the production line are directly involved in the development process for the 3D-printed tools.

Hirsch gives top priority to focusing on the employees and their needs. “When designing a prototype, it is very important to us that we fulfill our colleagues’ wishes exactly,” he said. “Our goal is to provide our Audi colleagues the 3D-printed tool as quickly as possible, thus supporting them in their daily work.”

The process is another building block in the company’s digital transformation. For Audi it marks an important step in the evolution of production into a modern smart factory. The use of the technology enhances flexibility and efficiency in addition to enabling the products to be customized as suggested by the employees.

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