3 Ways Volkswagen Will Use HP Metal Jet

When HP introduced its Metal Jet platform at IMTS 2018, the launch was assisted by key initial partners including the German automaker. Here are some of the opportunities VW sees with this metal 3D printing technology.

When HP introduced its new metal 3D printing platform, Metal Jet (MJ), at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), it wasn’t a direct product launch—the platform won’t be broadly available for another three years. But that doesn’t mean this 3D printing technology will be on hold for that timespan. When Stephen Nigro, president of 3D printing for HP, delivered the keynote of the Additive Manufacturing Conference held during IMTS, he shared the stage with key partners who will be the first to use the platform, including German automaker Volkswagen. (Watch the keynote here.)

Partnerships are critical to the plan for a controlled rollout of this technology, which includes a parts manufacturing service to help potential printer buyers become familiar with this technology. Contract manufacturers GKN and Parmatech will fulfill these orders while also seeking opportunities to serve their own customers with the MJ machines. Volkswagen’s capacity, on the other hand, will remain captive as the automaker pursues a multi-year plan to integrate Metal Jet into its supply chain.

What will Volkswagen be printing? In a press Q&A following the keynote, Dr. Martin Goede, head of technology planning and development at Volkswagen, listed three key ways the company will use Metal Jet technology:

  1. Customized parts will be the first stage, starting with custom key fob parts (see slide 2 above) on display in HP’s booth at IMTS. Volkswagen buyers will have the opportunity to purchase more custom aesthetic components for their cars as a result of this development.
  2. New designs, specifically in situations where additive can provide a competitive advantage over traditional manufacturing methods. For example, Metal Jet 3D-printed parts can be 30 to 40 percent lighter than traditional sheet metal or cast parts, contributing to better fuel efficiency in the final vehicle.
  3. Components with greater functionality, meaning using Metal Jet where it is possible to achieve better performance from a 3D-printed part over the long term. This might include the consolidation of multiple parts into single 3D-printed components for greater durability, for instance.

These last two applications for Metal Jet highlight the fact that Volkswagen is not seeking to simply replace conventionally manufactured parts with 3D-printed ones. When asked what percentage of Volkswagen parts could be made this way, Goede said it would not be current parts, but different parts, manufactured additively. Identifying components and assemblies that can be made with new, AM-optimized designs will be part of the process. 

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