Rolls-Royce is accelerating the integration of 3D printing into its production process

Published on December 14, 2020 by Carlota V.

Since the start of the year, the British manufacturer Rolls-Royce, a subsidiary of the BMW Group, has been 3D printing plastic and metal parts for its Rolls-Royce Ghost model. The parts are manufactured along the production line at various locations in the global production network and are assembled in Goodwood, England. The manufacturer says it will install several hundred thousand 3D printed parts in the Rolls-Royce Ghost over the life cycle of the car model, drawing on BMW’s experience with its new additive manufacturing center. The group wishes to rely on 3D printing technologies to produce vehicles in series, Rolls-Royce being only the beginning of this great adventure.

Last June, the BMW Group opened its Additive Manufacturing Campus in Oberschleissheim, north of Munich, to bring together some 50 solutions for  plastic and metal 3D printing. The group’s ambition is to industrialize these manufacturing processes, automate them and constantly innovate in terms of design. Daniel Schäfer, Head of Production Integration and Pilot Plant Integration at the BMW Group, adds: “Processes such as additive manufacturing help us to shorten development cycles and thus get our vehicles into production faster. 3D printing also helps us to reduce component production times while maintaining high quality standards“. These advantages were quickly incorporated by the group’s English subsidiary, Rolls-Royce, which has been able to adopt 3D printing and now designs end-use parts in higher volumes. We are still a long way from mass production, but these development are nevertheless encouraging.

Rolls-Royce has produced metal 3D printed parts | Photo Credits: BMW

Rolls-Royce relies on plastic and metal technologies

Last October, Rolls-Royce introduced 3D printed components in its Extended Ghost model. The parts printed by the manufacturer are for the passenger cell and under the body, and are highly functional and rigid. For the interior, the group designed plastic components using selective laser sintering (SLS) and Multi Jet Fusion technologies, while for the metal parts, Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) was preferred. The latter are manufactured at the BMW Group’s plant in Landshut, Germany, and then integrated almost fully automatically into the production process.

Each 3D printed metal part has a unique QR code and identification numbers. If the teams had gone through more traditional manufacturing processes, they probably wouldn’t have been able to customize each part with these details. Also note that the British brand logo is present on every component.

Each metal 3D printed part comes with a identification number and QR code | Photo Credits: BMW

On the design side, the teams at BMW and Rolls-Royce relied on generative design to optimize the structure of each component and offer a lighter, more efficient part. They explain: “In the early stages of the development of the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, engineers analysed hundreds of components and tested the extent to which production using additive manufacturing processes was possible. The focus was on the advantages in terms of weight and geometry compared to traditional processes and the economic benefits. By selecting suitable components for series production via 3D printing, the experts defined criteria and requirements for the 3D printed components and translated them into “machine language” with the help of data specialists. This was the start of a new artificial intelligence system that enables the BMW Group to identify potential 3D printed components in future vehicles faster and earlier.”

The group uses generative design and topology optimization methods | Photo Credits: BMW

The objective is to industrialize this production process as much as possible, from design to manufacturing, and to gradually increase the number of 3D printed parts. One thing is certain, the opening of this dedicated center in Germany should change all that. You can find more information HERE.

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