German automaker Audi is expanding its use of 3-D printing by using custom-designed and locally printed auxiliary tools from a 3-D printer to help employees on production lines. It’s also creating a separate 3-D printing department.
“By establishing a separate specialist department for 3-D printing, we are professionalizing this already successful project,” says Helmut Stettner, manager of Audi’s Neckarsulm plant. “Even more employees will be able to benefit from the experienced expert team and the custom auxiliary tools in the future.”
Audi’s team at the company’s startup/analysis center already has established polymer 3-D printing in the craft-scale R8 factory at the Bölllinger Höfe. The team develops ideas for new or optimized tools in close collaboration with their colleagues on the production line. Under the direction of Waldemar Hirsch, project manager, the team designs the tools on site and prints them on the 3-D printer.
During a one-week workshop last December, the team tested the use of this fast, convenient service for volume production in the factory. It identified several hundred applications where printed auxiliary tools offer substantial savings potential.
But Audi also is using the project to actively drive cultural change. Employees on the production line are directly involved in the development process for the 3-D-printed tools.
“When designing a prototype, it is very important to us that we fulfill our colleagues’ wishes exactly,” says Hirsch. “Our goal is to provide our Audi colleagues the 3-D-printed tool as quickly as possible, thus supporting them in their daily work.”
Audi says this process is another building block in the company’s digital transformation that will lead to a modern smart factory.
“The decision to establish the new department supports the creation of a cross-site network,” says Stettner. “Ultimately the entire Volkswagen Group will benefit from the expertise in Neckarsulm.”