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BMW Group increasingly relies on individual robot grippers from the 3D printer in its production system

With more than 30 years of experience, the BMW Group is a pioneer in the field of additive manufacturing. Since 1991, individual vehicle parts and components for concept vehicles, prototypes and racing cars, and later also for series production models, have been produced using 3D printers. The BMW Group itself also manufactures numerous work aids and tools for its own production system using various 3D printing processes.

The use of 3D printing technologies enables the BMW Group to respond quickly and cost-effectively to specific requirements. Special attention is paid to the production of large-format robot grippers for CFRP roofs, which are produced using large scale printing (LSP) and selective laser sintering (SLS). These techniques enable the production of lighter yet stable components, which extends the service life of the robots and reduces energy consumption.

“The increased use of additive manufacturing in the BMW Group production system brings numerous advantages. For example, it enables us to produce production aids and handling grippers ourselves quickly, cost-effectively and flexibly, which we can adapt to individual requirements at any time and design to be weight-optimized. Less weight enables higher speeds on the conveyor belt, shorter cycle times and reduced costs. In addition, smaller robots can be used in the medium term, which also reduces CO2 emissions and costs.

The BMW Group also uses 3D printing for the production of casting molds using the sand casting process, in particular for aluminum cylinder heads, which are manufactured at the Landshut plant.

“In addition to direct additive manufacturing processes, the BMW Group has been using 3D printing with sand to create casting molds at the Landshut site for many years. This technology is traditionally used for the production of cast prototypes as well as in large-scale production for high-performance engine components. Another highly attractive field of application is now the use for large-format production aids,” says Klaus Sammer, Head of Product and Process Planning Light Metal Casting.

The latest innovation is the use of a bionic robot gripper, which was specially developed for the production of CFRP roofs for the BMW M3. By combining LSP and SLS, it was possible to reduce the weight of the gripper by 25 percent compared to conventional models, reducing the number of robots used from three to one.

“By using an optimized support structure from 3D printing, we were able to increase the rigidity of the gripper when handling door elements at the Regensburg plant and reduce the weight at the same time. In subsequent projects, robots with a lower load capacity can be used, which helps to reduce costs,” explains Florian Riebel, Head of Door and Flap Production in Regensburg.

The continuous development in the field of 3D printing is supported by advanced software solutions that enable fast and efficient optimization of components.

Markus Lehmann, Head of Plant Engineering and Robotics at BMW Group Plant Munich, explains: “At the Munich plant, we are continuously expanding the use of additively manufactured production aids. In the area of gripper and handling systems, we are using 3D printing to equip our established grippers with individual, printed attachment elements and have already replaced complete gripper systems with highly integrated and weight-optimized support structures. When handling the complete BMW i4 floor assembly, we were able to reduce the weight by 30 percent, for the complete gripper by over 50 kg, and extend the service life of our systems accordingly.”

The BMW Group impressively demonstrates how the targeted use of 3D printing technologies can not only reduce production costs, but also minimize the environmental impact by reducing material waste and optimizing energy consumption.

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