Tessa’s Weekly Picks – 3D Printed Tooling for Cars


Tessa Blokland  

3D printed customized thumb cast for car-plant workers at BMW.

Not so long ago we posted a Weekly Picks on car parts, but equally interesting are the manufacturing aids (also known as tooling) the automotive industry uses when assembling a car. I find this interesting because, with the maturing of 3D printing and the expanding knowledge about the technique, it seems that the possible applications are limitless. 3D printed tools used in the manufacturing process are kind of a hidden product with its own requirements, as you can also read in the blog post on the rights tools. Here are some interesting other examples of 3D printed tooling, specifically for cars.

I thought the whole production of a car has been robotized, but still, people are pressing rubber plugs into holes, as you can see in the BMW production line. To support this repetitive task, each factory worker has a 3D printed customize thumb cast. According to the article, “the 3D-printed apparel acts like support brackets for the workers’ thumbs, reducing strain and helping them to fit certain parts into the cars more easily. Each ‘thumb’ is created as a custom orthotic device using a portable 3D camera, which captures the unique size and shape of each line-workers thumb.”

Another example of improving the working experience of BMW’s factory workers is a 3D printed handheld device for attaching bumper supports. Thanks to 3D printing the tool is up to 72% lighter than conventionally produced metal tooling.

In Ford‘s pilot plant, the whole production line including the tools used to assemble the cars is manufactured in order to create the most optimal workflow. 3D printed tooling is a perfect solution for this: quick iterations, low investment costs, and custom made designs for each specific production process. The 3D printed tool you see here is a mold for the exact placing of the letters in Focus, just one of many customized tools.

The tooling example of Volkswagen in its Portugees pilot plant (featured here in the past) is a well-documented example of the benefits of 3D printing in tooling. If you watch the video you can hear about the huge benefits 3D printing offers, but – and this is what I like most – is that you can understand that the right 3D printed tooling can only be created through collaboration with the plant workers and the production line managers.

Also, Opel experienced enormous benefits with 3D printing in costs, production time and working comfort. According to Opel, the production costs of the aids is reduced by up to 90%, and on top of that they are 70% lighter and can be produced in hours. “We can adapt the tools for each assembly situation, as well as make them user-friendly for our colleagues on the line,” said Opel’s Virtual Simulation Engineer Sascha Holl.

The last example is a 3D printed tool used in order to screw six bolts in one turn. A great example of a 3D printed tool since it uses the advantages of 3D printing: the freedom to design extreme complex lightweight shapes. Seems to me like a big improvement in a repetitive daily task.

LEO Lane_Weekly Pick_3D Printed Tooling for Cars

Each of Tessa’s weekly picks is a curated group of 3D printed designs, based on the week’s chosen theme. If you would like to offer a theme for Tessa, or if you have your own 3D printed weekly picks you would like to see featured, please let us know by commenting below. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the latest weekly picks every week in your mailbox.

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