Accelerating Automotive Design With Multi-Material 3D Printing

Full-colour, multi-material 3D printing for shorter prototyping lead times – now that’s Vorsprung durch Technik

In January 2010, car-maker Audi won a seven-year legal battle to take full control of “Vorsprung durch Technik” as a trademark.

The advertising slogan roughly translates from German as ‘advancement through technology’ – and a recent investment in a world-leading 3D-printing solution is evidence that the company does indeed place great emphasis on its mantra.

Audi is now the proud user of a Stratasys J750, the world’s only full-colour, multi-material 3D printer, which enables it to produce parts that meet the texture and colour-matching requirements of its stringent design approval process.

It expects a significant reduction in prototyping lead times for vehicle tail light covers, with turnaround times decreasing by up to 50 per cent in comparison to traditional manufacturing methods.

Automotive Design – How it all works

Before a new vehicle goes into production, the Audi Pre-Series Center in Ingolstadt, Germany, builds physical models and prototypes for the brand to evaluate new designs and concepts thoroughly. This requires allocation of most parts of the vehicle in an early stage of product development – everything from wheel covers and door handles to radiator grilles.

Traditional methods, such as moulding and milling, are commonly used to create and replicate new designs. However, the use of plastics 3D printing has become an integral part of the automotive design process, enabling the team to overcome limitations of conventional processes and accelerate design verification.

Stratasys_Audi 3d printing

In the case of tail light covers, the main challenge is the multi-coloured covers of the housing. These individual parts must be assembled, as they cannot be produced in one piece. This time-intensive process subsequently delays time-to-market.

With the Stratasys J750, however, which makes more than 500,000 colour combinations available, the team can 3D-print transparent parts in multiple colours and textures, eliminating the previous multi-step approach and ticking all design approval boxes.

Dr Tim Spiering, Head of the Audi Plastics 3D Printing Center. Said: “Design is one of the most important buying decisions for Audi customers, therefore it’s crucial we adhere to supreme quality standards during the design and concept phase of vehicle development.

“As a result, we need prototypes to have exact part geometries, no distortion and extremely high quality, as well as true-to-part colour and transparency.

“The Stratasys J750 will offer us a significant advantage, as it allows us to print the exact textures and colours our design defines. This is essential for getting design concepts approved for production.

“In terms of 3D-printing transparent parts, I have not seen a comparable technology that meets our standards.”

Dr Spiering and his 24-member team are responsible for providing all plastics 3D-printing expertise, advice and production at Audi. Having purchased its first Stratasys Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printer in 2002, the division has since grown its portfolio to 10 polymer 3D printers, including a range of Stratasys FDM and PolyJet models.

Andy Middleton, President of Stratasys Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said: “Audi is a prime example of how our unique full-colour, multi-material 3D-printing technology can combine several design processes into one, rapidly accelerating development cycles.

“If you extend the time savings achieved by Audi on the tail lights to other parts of the vehicle, the overall impact on time-to-market can be huge.

“We’re excited to see how Audi continues to leverage our technologies into new application areas to further increase efficiencies across its development process.”

SYS Systems is a leading UK platinum partner for Stratasys, supplying and supporting the full product range for industries including aerospace, automotive, healthcare, consumer products and education.

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