3D printing has been invested in heavily across the automotive industry by nearly every leading automobile manufacturer, and now one of those companies is beginning to reap some reward. Volkswagen Autoeuropa, who put out around 100,000 cars a year, is now using 3D printing technology to revolutionize workflow at their facility. By 3D printing manufacturing aids for assembly line use, such as tools, jigs and fixtures, the firm has completely removed the need and usage of outside suppliers. As a result of this, Volkswagen Autoeuropa’s workflow has become much faster and production costs are down quite a considerable amount.

This 3D printed wheel protection jig was previously sourced for €800, but can now be printed at just €21. Tool development time has shrunk from 56 to 10 days.

Typically, 3D printing is used for producing prototypes, but over recent years, the ability to 3D print custom tools, jigs, fixtures and other manufacturing aides has grown immensely. Today, companies like Volkswagen Autoeuropa now have the ability to produce these things with unmatched accuracy, performance and functionality, in just a matter of minutes. Prior to the adoption of 3D printers, Volkswagen Autoeuropa had no choice, but to rely on external sources to get their manufacturing aides. Often times, this can take weeks which in turn delays the production process daily and slows the workflow. When developing new aides, it was a very difficult process for them beacuse there is no way to conduct a simple trial-and-error approach when parts take weeks to be delivered. Another issue with outsourcing was pricing, as it is an expensive process bringing in these manufacturing aides from external sources.

This liftgate badge took 35 days in development time when sourced externally and used to cost €400. With 3D printing, the project was completed in 4 days and the costs reduced to €10 a part.

This is why Volkswagen Autoeuropa indulged in 3D printing. With 3D printing technology, Volkswagen Autoeuropa is now able to produce over 90% off all the manufacturing aides used in the process, in-house. This proved to be an incredibly smart financial move, as the company now saves well over 95% in development time and cut tool development costs are a mere 9% the cost of outsourcing. According to Luis Pascoa, Volkswagen Autoeuropa’s Pilot Plant Manager, “just by printing a handful of tools we can get back the initial investment”. In just 2016 alone, 3D printing proved its worth, saving the company’s facility costs over $150,000 and reaching the breakeven point in just 2 weeks. With experts predicting the savings to total over $250,000 just for the year 2017 alone, the facility plans to integrate further 3D printing technologies at its facility.

This window gauge used to cost €180 per part – it can now be 3D printed at just €35. Development time shrunk from 8 to 6 days.

Producing these manufacturing aides themselves has not only saved the firm plenty of time and money, but had allowed for Volkswagen Autoeuropa to develop and test new or improved design ideas for manufacturing aides in just a matter of hours. If the tool works, it can simply be manufactured right away. If it doesn’t work, developers at Volkswagen Autoeuropa can simply make design adjustments, re-print the adjusted part in-house and re-testing it on the assembly line until they have perfected it.

3D printing has already begun to impact manufacturing around the world, and Volkswagen Autoeuropa clearly demonstrates this revolution with their innovative design and production of manufacturing aides with the technology. Luis Pascoa stated, “[3D printing] is a low-cost solution offering high-standard and quality results. If you consider the entire automotive industry, the potential is huge!” 3D printing offers the opportunity to streamline production while also dramatically cutting production costs and time.


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