3D printing is used to manufacturing the assembly aid tools for the ADAM, at the Eisenach factory. Here a tool for centering the "Adam" logo is created by 3D printing...
When collecting an interesting Opel Meriva test car with the new silent and smooth 1,6 litre 136 HP Diesel engine, it was a good occasion to visit Ron Dubois and Michel Retour of Opel Belgium Communications at their stylish premises.
The discussion soon turned to manufacturing techniques, following also my conversation with Bernard Lejeune, Senior Manager smart at smart France. Indeed, car manufacturing techniques are of great interest and it is maybe a good idea to introduce you, dear reader, regularly to the present state of the art manufacturing and finishing techniques, in our present day, modern car world.
Larger, more complex assembly aid tools can also be made by 3D printing...
Communication Manager Michel Retour, walking me back to my test car to check I got all the necessary info on the car, mentioned that Opel will soon launch a press statement on the subject, and indeed, here it is: manufacturing tools for car production are made by 3D printing…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
It is all very clear to us all that 3D printing will also have considerable impact on how cars will be produced in the future. This future has already begun at Opel: hardware is coming out of the 3D printer!
The team led by Virtual Simulation Engineer Sascha Holl develops in Rüsselsheim production tools, which are now used in the Eisenach factory for the assembly of the Opel Adam and Adam Rocks.
For this last car, a 3D printed tool is used to mount the nameplate on the side window. Also to mount the front window with precision, Opel has printed in 3D the proper tool. On the photo below, one sees clearly in white and grey the 40-odd assembly tools for the Adam, which are coming out of the 3D printer, and which are used to facilitate assembly of both Adam and Adam Rock models, built at Eisenach. By the way, I will soon produce a report about the main items of this factory, certainly worth a visit in a not too distant future...
What materials are used?
Two printing techniques are used by Opel. The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) method and the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technique.
With FDM, light and robust ABS material is molten and layer by layer reconstructed. Every layer is about a quarter of a millimetre thick. Hollow spaces and overhanging parts are “filled in” by the intelligent 3D software. Excess material is then later washed away by the use of a special cleaning fluid. The FDM technique is ideal for producing smaller tools and prototypes during the development of the production tools.
With the SLS-installation, larger production aid tools can be manufactured, which can also consist of several elements. A Polyamid powder is molten using laser techniques, and then also shaped layer by layer.
Why use 3D printing techniques?
The advantages are manifest: in the classic techniques, a negative form had to be made laboriously by hand, and by using 3D printing, the production costs of the respective tools are now reduced by not less than 90 pct! The whole printing operation takes, depending on the size of the part, between 4 to 8 hours.
Modifications in the design can still be made by a simple click on the computer, and so the tool can be adapted to the individual worker and/or the car. It is also very easy to send the design data from one computer to another, and therefore from one plant in the world to another, using the local 3D printers. The advantages for a large manufacturing group are all too clear…
The developments will not stop here. Now the tools are still made from ABS, plastics and composite materials, but soon it will be possible to 3D print tools made out of metal… stay posted!
Hans Knol ten Bensel