The use of 3D-printed components isn't exactly new, but it has begun to reach levels normally reserved for mass production. A remarkable example is the 3D priting of parts by BMW. The German automaker said in a November announcement that it has produced one million 3D-printed components since 2010.
This year alone, the BMW Group Additive Manufacturing Center will manufacture 200,000 components via 3D printers, which is up 42 percent over 2017. The one-millionth component was a window guide rail for the BMW i8 Roadster. BMW said it took just five days to develop the component which was then integrated into production shortly thereafter. BMW worked with HP Multi Jet Fusion Technology to develop and manufacture the part. The part marks the first time a BMW/HP partnership component made its way into series production.
Aside from the window guide rail, the i8 Roadster also features a 3D-printed fixture for the soft-top attachment. Critically, it weighs less than the former injection-molded plastic part, but the aluminum alloy makes it considerably stiffer.
Work with 3D printers began in 2010 at BMW with small-scale components for its DTM racers, such as the water pump pulley. It expanded in 2012 with laser-sintered parts for the Rolls-Royce Phantom. And the ultra-luxury brand of the BMW Group also features 3D-printed fixtures for fiber optic guides in the Rolls-Royce Dawn. The brand installs 10 3D-printed parts in its vehicles today.
But others have also expanded their work with 3D printers. Supercars from Koenigsegg, interior components from General Motors, and replacement parts for classic Porsche cars all feature 3D-printing technology today or will incorporate it in the near future.
BMW hopes its research and work in 3D printing opens up a new era of driver customization en masse. Today, fellow BMW Group brand Mini offers the ability to let soon-to-be-owners select custom indicator inlays and dashboard strips online before they're sent off for 3D printing and installed into the production car.