Xometry has revealed that BMW has been utilising its 3D printing services to produce custom automotive fixtures in short-run and one-off batches.
Despite the automotive giant’s own manufacturing competencies, BMW sought to leverage the capabilities of a service provider to reduce the time spent sourcing parts and managing vendors through its current production assembly process. For the alignment of components like the trim, badges and emblems, BMW’s conformal tools are produced by a combination of 3D printing and urethane casting. It involves BMW having to deal with multiple third-party companies and can take up more than a quarter of the working week, or ten hours, to coordinate and procure componentry.
The decision was therefore taken to go to Xometry, to take advantage of its multi-process capabilities. For parts of a fixture that hold and apply trim or decals onto the body of a car, 3D printing processes like stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) were used. With additive manufacturing, Xometry was able to tackle the specific geometries that allow the part to be ‘held flush’ on the curvature of the vehicle to clamp, plunge and depress the trim. Typically, a nonconformal CNC machined part would be held at a distance and, on occasion, lead to imprecise applications of such details. Using a polymer material over metal has also made this fixture lighter.
Another application produced by Xometry is an alignment tool that combined 3D printed, CNC machined and carbon fibre parts and is designed to align various sections of the vehicle during assembly hundreds of times a day. The use of 3D printing and carbon fibre has helped to reduce weight by between 25-50%, with BMW reporting a reduction in worker fatigue as a result. It has also been said that, since BMW and Xometry began working together in 2016, tool reliability has increased, with the rate of application error falling from 10% to under 4%.
“Xometry is so great for BMW because I can go and upload my full assembly for my custom tools in one upload and then configure the unique material and process for each part,” commented Ryan Lambert, BMW Tooling Design Engineer. “They take care of fulfilment, so I don’t need to juggle or manage suppliers. We buy the quote and Xometry takes care of the rest. There’s a great team at Xometry that has supported me through all my projects, whether it’s design or material suggestions or catching an issue before it goes to manufacturing.”