Not in one piece, mind you. It's too big for that. But the Audi Toolmaking division employed metal printing technology to fabricate all the parts that went into this replica of one of the most dominant of the Silver Arrow grand prix racers of the pre-war era. It's essentially like the pedal car Audi rolled out nine years ago, or the E-Tron concept it showed us nearly five years ago. Only this one uses more advanced manufacturing techniques.
Aside from making us want to drive it like nobody's business, the half-sized vehicle serves to showcase the advancements which Audi and the VW Group are making in manufacturing – particularly in the area of 3D printing. The German automaker presently has the technology to print laser-melted layers of metallic powder – either steel or aluminum – with grains measuring half the diameter of a human hair. The equipment can handle objects as large as 7.9 inches high by 9.5 inches wide – which, as small as this little car looks, is still a bit too large to simply print out in one piece.
- Exact model of the "Silver Arrow" from a 3D printer
- Audi Board of Management Member for Production Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl: "This underscores our pioneering role in toolmaking."
From powder to a component: With a 3D printer, Audi Toolmaking has produced a model of the historical Grand Prix sports car "Auto Union Typ C" from the year 1936. The company is now examining further possible applications of metal printers for the production of complex components. At the same time, Audi is creating important synergies with toolmaking in other parts of the Volkswagen Group.
"We are pushing forward with new manufacturing technologies at Audi Toolmaking and at the Volkswagen Group," stated Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, Audi's Board of Management Member for Production and Head of Toolmaking at the Volkswagen Group. "Together with partners in the area of research, we are constantly exploring the boundaries of new processes. One of our goals is to apply metal printers in series production."
The Volkswagen Group has a total of 14 toolmaking units in nine countries. Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Waltl, cooperative ventures have been arranged for research and development. The first focus of the cooperation is the implementation of metallic 3D printing and 3D printing in the sand‑printing method. Audi Toolmaking has now used metal printing to produce all the metallic parts of the Silver Arrow model "Auto Union Typ C" on a scale of 1:2.
For this purpose, a selective-sintering laser melted layers of metallic powder with a grain size of 15 to 40 thousandths of a millimeter, roughly half of the diameter of a human hair. The process therefore allows the production of components with complex geometries, which with conventional methods could either not be produced or only with great difficulties. Audi Toolmaking is currently using 3D printing to produce components out of aluminum and steel. At present, this process can be used to produce shapes and objects with a length of 240 millimeters and a height of up to 200 millimeters. These printed components achieved a higher density than components made by die casting or hot forming.
Audi Toolmaking is regarded as a pioneer in the development of new technologies, also within the Volkswagen Group. The company's innovations include the intelligent tool, which is used to help make more sharper contours in the sheet metal of car bodies. Lasers installed in the tool measure the position of the sheet metal while activators take corrective action.