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  • Volkswagen Autoeuropa: Maximizing production efficiency with 3D printed tools, jigs, and fixtures

    Volkswagen Autoeuropa: Maximizing production efficiency with 3D printed tools, jigs, and fixtures

    Written by Caspar de Vries
    Jun 21, 2017
    Volkswagen Autoeuropa, who is responsible for manufacturing iconic Volkswagen models such as the Scirocco and Sharan, and has yearly output levels of 100,000 cars, now uses 3D printing to revolutionize its workflow. The facility 3D prints manufacturing aids that are used daily on the assembly line. No longer having to rely on external suppliers for its tools, jigs, and fixtures greatly reduces the costs and shrinks lead times from several weeks to just a few days.
     

     3D printed manufacturing aids

    The case of Volkswagen Autoeuropa illustrates how 3D printing can be of great value to the automotive industry. While - traditionally - 3D printing used to be associated with creating prototypes, it has great potential for manufacturing businesses in creating custom tools, jigs, fixtures, and other manufacturing aids. With 3D printing, it's possible to create highly complex designs and make rapid revisions and amendments, without cost penalties or long lead times. The tools can be tailored to match exact requirements, making function and performance the main drivers of design - not cost or time.

    3D printed wheel protection jig This 3D printed wheel protection jig was previously sourced for €800, but can now be printed at just €21. Tool development time has shrunk from 56 to 10 days.

    External suppliers

    Prior to working with Ultimaker, Volkswagen Autoeuropa relied on external suppliers for its tools, jigs, and fixtures. These third party companies often took several weeks to process the mock-up and manufacture the tools in question. This considerably held up production, adversely affecting Volkswagen Autoeuropa’s workflow.

    Outsourcing also proved to be expensive, particularly if any design amendments were required. When developing new manufacturing aids, Volkswagen Autoeuropa often needs to adopt a trial-and-error approach. This was not practical when working with other companies.

    Saving time and money with 3D printing

    After having validated the concept in 2014, Volkswagen Autoeuropa currently has 7 Ultimakers in operation and produces 93% of all externally manufactured tools in-house. The transition to 3D printing saved Volkswagen Autoeuropa 91% in tool development costs and reduced development time by 95%. As Luis Pascoa, Pilot Plant Manager at Volkswagen Autoeuropa explains:

    Just by printing a handful of tools we can get back the initial investment.
    3D printed liftgate badge This liftgate badge took 35 days in development time when sourced externally and used to cost €400. With 3D printing, the project was completed in 4 days and the costs reduced to €10 a part.
    3D printed window gauge at Volkswagen Autoeuropa This window gauge used to cost €180 per part - it can now be 3D printed at just €35. Development time shrunk from 8 to 6 days.

    Over 2016, the facility saved an estimated €150,000 - a figure that is expected to increase to €250,000 in 2017. The initial investment in the Ultimaker machines was paid back fully in 2 months. On top of these time and cost savings, the 3D printed tools are more ergonomic and yield greater operator engagement as feedback can more easily be incorporated into design iterations - all adding up to unprecedented efficiency levels. The 3D printed tools Volkswagen Autoeuropa produces are considered best practice in the Volkswagen group.

    Workflow changes

    By producing the tools in-house, Volkswagen Autoeuropa can skip the purchasing department and has the ability to develop ideas for new or improved tools together with the operators. That was previously impossible as only a few ideas could actually be implemented in a timely manner.

    A new tool can be printed overnight, and the next morning it is tested on the assembly line by the operators. Their feedback can be incorporated in consecutive design iterations until the perfect tool is made. This tool can then be printed as many times as needed and at low costs.

    3D printing tools at Volkswagen Autoeuropa Manufacturing aids can now be 3D printed overnight and tested the next morning, which speeds up the development process considerably.

    3D printing and manufacturing

    3D printing offers the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. With a 3D printer in-house, prototypes, tools, and end-use parts can be made quickly and at a fraction of the costs of outsourcing. With desktop 3D printing, manufacturing companies can streamline their production and achieve greater efficiency than ever before. As Luis Pascoa argues;

    The Ultimaker is a low-cost solution offering high-standard and quality results. If you consider the entire automotive industry, the potential is huge!

    Volkswagen Autoeuropa clearly demonstrates how 3D printing can revolutionize the workflow in automotive companies. If you're interested to find out what Ultimaker can do for your business, hit the button below to reach out to one of our local partners and request a quote.

    Contact us for more information regarding the Ultimaker 3 range

  • How a First-Time 3D Printing User Brought SpaceX Rocket Models To Life

    How a First-Time 3D Printing User Brought SpaceX Rocket Models To Life

    in Interviews

    Oliver ‘Oli’ Braun spends his days behind a camera or in front of the computer screen, digitally modeling visual effects for movies. Outside of work, he’s running a small rocket lab in his studio.

    As a devoted space enthusiast, Oli desperately wanted a model of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which made history when it became the world's first reusable rocket. His search for a detailed, accurate model was fruitless, so nine months ago he decided to create a replica himself.

    Oli had no previous experience with 3D printing, or creating physical models. Now he’s 3D printing and manufacturing models 24/7, churning out 1 meter tall replicas of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The models’ accuracy and level of detail have earned unanimous praise from fellow enthusiasts, and even caught the attention of SpaceX.

    We sat down with Oli to learn about his workflow, and how any CAD user can master the art of creating professional scale models.

       

    Watch the video to learn more about Oli’s inspiration and how he creates his highly detailed scale models.

     

    How did you get started on this project?

     

    I run a film production company and 3D animation studio in Bad Saulgau, Germany, so I come from a strong modeling background. Normally I just do models for the screen, VR, or pre-rendered sequences of animation. This is the first time that I was working on a real-life physical model.

    I'm a huge space fan, and I really wanted to have a SpaceX rocket model, but they are not available for purchase anywhere. There’s only one company in the United States that does aerospace models and creates models of SpaceX rockets, but they are extremely expensive and outdated. I thought, why not just try it myself?

    What was your process like? Did you face any challenges moving from designing for digital vs. physical models?

    The basis for all the models are pictures, that’s how I’ve been doing my 3D models for a long time. They’re actually modeled in 3D Max as polygonal models, like the models you would use in a game or an animation.

    This approach works fine for visual applications, where you can cheat a lot because there are some things that you can see, while others remain hidden from view. But a physical model has to have structural integrity, and it has to be designed keeping assembly in mind. For example, you cannot have parts intersecting. This was new to me, and I didn't expect it to work this well. I’ve had maybe five or six parts that I had to re-engineer and reconstruct, but other than that, it worked out fine.

    Oli designed the Falcon 9 CAD model in 3DS Max. This image shows the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket and the payload with the Dragon capsule on the top.Oli designed the Falcon 9 CAD model in 3DS Max. This image shows the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket and the payload with the Dragon capsule on the top.

    Also, when you model things in scale and proportion, there are some details that you have to make sturdier or bigger to make them work on a physical model. For example, it's not easy to make small struts sturdy enough because they're thinner than a toothpick on a small scale 1:144 model. One trick is to make the part hollow and have a 0.3 mm or 0.5 mm canal in it, where you can place a carbon fiber or metal rod. The reinforcement on the inside provides the structural strength, and it’s not visible from the outside. With the Form 2, you can 3D print all these intricate parts–which is awesome.

    I always aimed to be accurate to the real rockets, down to the smallest details. The two stages and the payload are attached to each other with magnets, and they can be separated to show the stage separation mechanism inside. The first stage carries a Dragon spacecraft, but I’ve created other versions to switch the stages and payloads around.

    I’ve also modeled the Falcon Heavy, the variant of the Falcon 9 that has two additional first stages as strap-on boosters. There wasn't any real photo reference since it’s not flying yet, and SpaceX has released very limited information on it, which made that one quite a challenge.

    Why did you choose stereolithography over other 3D printing technologies to create the rocket models?

    I was doing a lot of research on various 3D printing methods because I haven’t been involved in this field before. I looked into all kinds of fused deposition modeling (FDM) printers out there, but everything was just like, “Eh, it's all right, but not really what I’m looking for.” I wanted to show the small details and create models that look professional myself.

    Falcon 9 rockets (left), the Dragon capsule (top right), and the new titanium grid fins (bottom right). SpaceX updated the fins for the most recent flight, and Oli has managed replicate them on his own models in merely a few days.
    Falcon 9 rockets (left), the Dragon capsule (top right), and the new titanium grid fins (bottom right). SpaceX updated the fins for the most recent flight, and Oli has managed replicate them on his own models in merely a few days.

    After I got the Form 2, I was genuinely surprised how easy it was. I didn't expect it to work like “Printing for Dummies.” I thought maybe I would need to go through three or four liters of resin and messed up prints until the printer was finally in a useful state, but most parts turned out extremely well right from the start. I’ve had maybe three failed prints, and it’s literally printing 24/7.

    The best part is that nobody I showed these rockets here in person believed that they are actually 3D printed. They’d say, “No, they’re plastic, injection-molded. It can’t be that you 3D printed them yourself.”

    I can’t think of many people who’d say “my first 3D print was a 1 meter tall rocket.” What does the manufacturing process look like?

    It starts with 3D printing all the parts. The smaller 1:144 scale Falcon 9 consists of fifteen pieces and can be printed in one go, but the larger ones require multiple builds. I mostly use Formlabs Standard Grey Resin, which has a nice matte surface finish and great detail resolution. After printing, I clean and cure the parts, and sand down the support marks.

    Rocket engines in the works. The parts are printed in Standard Grey Resin, polished, primed, airbrushed, and finally coated to reach their final look.
    Rocket engines in the works. The parts are printed in Standard Grey Resin, polished, primed, airbrushed, and finally coated to reach their final look.

    Unfortunately, it’s not like you go to the printer, press the “make cool rocket” button, and it spits out a cool rocket. In reality, I'd say 90 percent of all the work is the finishing and painting process. So next, I assemble all the parts and prime the model. The primer uncovers all the irregularities and blemishes, which I correct with some more sanding. Then it’s time for painting.

    Check out our guides to learn more about priming and painting 3D prints, and how to create models larger than your 3D printer’s build volume.

    It took a very long time to figure out what kind of paint to use because even though rockets look white, they're not actually white. They are also somehow not too glossy, and not completely matte either, but somewhere in between. They have a unique surface finish, which we were trying to replicate as much as possible.

    My friend and coworker had some experience working with plastic models when he was younger, so he helped me out and researched the painting and finishing process.

    Showing off scale and proportion. Oli standing next to the 1:72 Falcon Heavy model (left), and the full scale model lineup (right).
    Showing off scale and proportion. Oli standing next to the 1:72 Falcon Heavy model (left), and the full scale model lineup (right).

    Manufacturing the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy Models

    Falcon 9 Falcon Heavy
    Scale 1:72 1:144 1:72 1:144
    Model Height 100 cm 48-50 cm 100 cm 948-50 cm
    Number of Parts 44 15 106 36
    Time to Manufacture 30 hours of printing 20 hours of post processing 9 hours of printing 5 hours of post processing 55 hours of printing 50 hours of post processing 20 hours of printing 12 hours of post processing

    Eventually, we found a company called Revell that produces plastic model kits. We mixed their small cans of paint with paint thinner and used it in the airbrush. We had to experiment with different needle sizes as well, but we finally found one that worked. After painting, we add the water slide decals that I print myself and apply a layer of clear coating to seal it all up.

    It all sounds simple, but it's actually a very time-consuming process. Even the smallest 1:144 scale Falcon 9 takes about one day of work, including five hours of post-processing, and the Falcon Heavy takes about 50 hours of labor to manufacture.

    How did SpaceX hear about your project?

    After I had completed my first models, I posted pictures of them on Reddit and in the SpaceX Facebook group. The latter has around 25,000 members–I would say 90 percent of them are space enthusiasts like me, and the rest are SpaceX employees. The feedback from the community was extremely good, I didn’t expect it to become so popular. It even got featured on Reddit’s home page as one of the top trending posts.

    Several SpaceX employees got in touch with me when they found out about the project. They were amazed by the level of detail and the accuracy of the models because even the ones from their professional supplier don't have that.

    Assembly plan of the 1:144 Falcon 9 rocket model. The small scale model measures 48-50 cm in height depending on the payload and consists of 15 parts. Its larger 1:72 scale sibling is made up of 44 parts and stands 100 cm tall.
    Assembly plan of the 1:144 Falcon 9 rocket model. The small scale model measures 48-50 cm in height depending on the payload and consists of 15 parts. Its larger 1:72 scale sibling is made up of 44 parts and stands 100 cm tall.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m running a small rocket lab. I’ve rearranged part of my studio into a model workshop, and I’m creating a production schedules, part lists, and assembly plans to show how to construct the models.

    Overall, I'm very thankful. At first, I started this as a personal project for my home. I just wanted to give it a try and I didn’t mind if I messed up. I’m super happy, this project has exceeded all my expectations.

    See more images of Oli’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as the manufacturing process.

    Learn More About Stereolithography 3D Printing

    Formlabs’ Form 2 3D printer

    Would you like to turn your digital models into real-life professional models? Learn about stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, the technology Oli used to 3D print the SpaceX models, and find out more about Formlabs’ Form 2 3D printer.

  • Get the most out of your Form 2

    Get the most out of your Form 2

    Formlabs has launched an all new post-processing solution that will help you get the most out of your Form 2.

    Form 2 Ecosystem

    Form Wash, an automated part washer and Form Cure, a post-curing unit, promises stronger parts with less effort.

    Form Wash

    Form Wash

    Form Wash automates your cleaning. You can opt to go glove-free and keep the parts directly on the build platform, and even set a timer. Offering you a consistent, automated workflow.

    "While you’re away, parts are precisely agitated in IPA, getting every nook and cranny perfectly clean." 

    Form Cure

    Form Cure

    Form Cure is a finely tuned post-curing unit designed to maximise material properties. The heating system preheats the chamber to get the parts ready for optimum post-curing, whilst the turntable rotates to provide uniform exposure.

    "Once the chamber is heated, 13 LEDs trigger the post-curing reaction, bringing parts to their maximum mechanical properties."

    FormCure 2

    Along with the Form 2, these new offerings complete a reliable, automated SLA printing process.

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