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25 Years of 3D Printing at BMW

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BMW Munich Plant 3D printed part

In recent years, 3D printing has become more popular as the process has become more affordable. This year, BMW celebrated its 25th year of utilizing the technology, creating parts for everything from concept cars to classic vehicles.

Inside BMW, 3D printing is referred to as “additive manufacturing”. The group started considering it as early as 1990, and by 1991 engineers were printing prototype parts for concept cars, using a wide variety of materials. Today, additive manufacturing touches almost every part of the BMW Group’s business.

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When the designers at BMW are creating the latest and greatest concept cars for auto shows, any unique parts are needed in a very limited run. This makes it inefficient for them to be created with the same means used to make production parts. The 3D printers allow for components to be made affordably, and make slightly changing a part much easier.

BMW Munich Plant 3D printed tool

A 3D printed tool at work on the BMW line, protecting workers’ thumbs

BMW also uses 3D printing to help its employees. A wearable device has been created to alleviate stress on thumb joints in certain portions of the assembly process. Each tool is 3D printed to fit an assembler’s hand mold to ensure that it functions correctly.

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As if that isn’t enough, BMW relies on 3D printing to maintain classic BMW vehicles. With BMW’s long history of building automobiles, there are many collector cars that need repairs with parts that are not available. BMW now has the ability to scan a part to reverse engineer it and print a replacement.

As 3D printing grows in popularity, it will be interesting to see what other applications it might have in the automotive world.