While 3D printing is often discussed as an important new technology for the auto industry, it hasn’t made much of an impact so far. Now, Volkswagen and Hewlett-Packard claim to have made a major breakthrough in metal 3D printing, showing that the technology can keep up with the demands of high-volume car production. But VW isn’t quite ready to take 3D printing mainstream yet.
HP was able to demonstrate that its Metal Jet 3D printers can make a lot of parts in a reasonable amount of time, but the items spewed out by those 3D printers weren’t meant to go on production cars. To celebrate the launch of the Volkswagen ID.3 — VW’s first mass-market electric car — HP printed 10,000 metal scale models of the ID.3, which were handed out to guests at the start of the production ceremony in Zwickau, Germany.
The production of ID.3 scale models represents the first of three phases of Volkswagen’s 3D printing plan, according to HP. The automaker plans to use 3D printing for structural parts of its next-generation vehicles, according to HP. The two companies hope to increase the number of parts produced, and go from making cosmetic parts to more vital components. The ultimate goal is to produce 50,000 to 100,000 parts a year, according to HP. Initially, those parts will include items like gearshift knobs and mirror mounts, but HP claims it will eventually be able to produce “fully safety-certified metal parts.”
Advocates of 3D printing have found no shortage of potential applications, but automotive uses have been fairly small scale so far. Ford used some 3D-printed parts for the brakes of its low-volume Mustang Shelby GT500, and the limited-edition Aston Martin DBS GT Zagato has some metal-printed interior trim pieces. Both Ford and Aston have discussed 3D printing as a way to offer customers more ways to personalize their cars, since the technology allows small-batch parts to be produced more affordably.
The Volkswagen ID.3 is a small hatchback about the size of the current VW Golf. While this model will not be sold in the United States, we will get a crossover based on the same MEB platform, and a handful of other electric models.