Czech carmaker Škoda has announced that it is using 3D printing to streamline its automotive business, integrating the production of prototypes, spare parts and tooling in-house.
As part of its “More flexible with 3D print farms” project, the company has set up a number of print farms with systems developed by companies like Prusa. Škoda’s additive manufacturing initiative was recently recognized by the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic, according to which the project is now considered one of the five most innovative Industrial 4.0 applications in the country since last year .
Additionally, the company announced plans for its upcoming “FORCE – Future Factory” initiative, which will see Škoda double digitization at several of its manufacturing plants.
“At Škoda, we use 3D printing to manufacture components and tools faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively and make targeted use of Industry 4.0 technologies,” said Michael Oeljeklaus, Board Member of Škoda. administration of Škoda for production and logistics. “This is how we are implementing our FORCE program for the Factory of the Future and continuing to digitize our production sites. I am delighted that our project has been recognized as one of the five most innovative approaches in the field of Industry 4.0 in the Czech Republic.
3D printing and the automotive sector
Due to the complexity of developing a new car, automakers often find themselves in the R&D phase of a new model for several years. This time is largely spent designing, testing, and iterating on ideas, which means fast prototyping and short lead times are required.
Rather than investing in entire manufacturing lines or molds just to prototype a few low-volume parts, automakers like Škoda can use 3D printers to streamline in-house production. In addition to allowing companies to finalize new designs in a much shorter period of time, the use of additive manufacturing lends itself to significant cost savings as third-party manufacturers are completely eliminated.
Of course, the use cases for 3D printing also extend to manufacturing tooling, where jigs and fixtures can be produced in hours to facilitate assembly line operations.
There are even potential applications in aftermarket replacement parts. Additive manufacturing can be particularly useful when dealing with components that were previously conventionally manufactured but are now obsolete, as parts sourcing can become a real issue. By printing these parts on demand, companies can ensure a much faster delivery time while reducing their reliance on huge inventories of physical parts.
How does Škoda benefit from additive manufacturing?
Škoda currently houses around 50 3D printers in its Production and Logistics division, all connected by an internal network. The company’s largest print farm is a set of ten systems at its main factory in Mladá Boleslav.
Additive manufacturing technology is being used, initially, at the company’s Pilot Hall for automotive parts prototyping purposes, as well as in maintenance departments. Škoda also uses 3D printers in its central technical department for manufacturing tools and spare parts and for testing new materials.
According to the company, the technology has made it possible to flexibly and reliably produce daily tools at short notice, allowing technicians to make repairs quickly. Printed parts are even added to a central database, meaning they can be adapted or reprinted at any time.
Škoda is certainly not the only major automaker to harness the power of 3D printing. Sports car manufacturer Porsche recently launched a new 3D-printed bucket seat that can be fitted to individual drivers, helping to make them more comfortable while also dropping their lap times. Available to order for specific models of the Boxster, Cayman and 911 supercars, the body-shaped seats feature 3D-printed cushions and backs, with customizable stiffness settings.
Elsewhere, earlier this year carmaker Nissan began using 3D printing technology developed by BCN3D to bolster its automotive production lines in Spain. It has been revealed that the company’s Barcelona factory now has IDEX FFF technology, with parts such as tools, jigs, fixtures and working prototypes 3D printed.
In Germany, automaker Volkswagen has announced plans to use binder jetting 3D printing to manufacture components at its main plant in Wolfsburg. The move would have made the company the first automaker to use 3D printing technology in its production process.
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The featured image shows a Škoda print farm with Prusa FDM 3D printers. Photo via Skoda.