Exhibit 1: 2018 BWM i8 Roadster
The BMW Group (“BMW”) is a pioneer in the use of additive manufacturing (“AM” or “3D printing”) for mass production in the automotive industry. The German auto manufacturer has been researching and producing in the field of AM technologies since 1990. Earlier this year, BMW launched the new i8 Roadster, and in doing so created the first metal 3D printed part to be successfully produced for a road car. BMW has ambitious goals for how it expects AM innovation to revolutionize auto manufacturing in the future both in terms of product design and manufacturing process improvement.
There are a number of reasons why the AM megatrend is important and potentially game changing for the automotive industry:
Lighter & Stronger
Auto manufacturers are constantly seeking to maximize strength and minimize weight for functional, safety and regulatory purposes. The 3D printed component in the new BMW i8 Roadster is a small metal fixture in the roof that is 10 times stiffer and 44% lighter than the plastic injection moulded counterpart in the previous model. An AM process called topographical optimization, has allowed BMW to optimize strength and weight in ways that are virtually impossible to do through traditional manufacturing methods. Lightweighting is also becoming more important for OEMs in the face of more stringent emissions regulations.
Customization & Remanufacturing
AM allows for increased product customization in large part because costly and time consuming tooling and retooling is not needed in the process. Design changes to 3D printed parts can simply be adjusted through programming software.
Exhibit 3: Auto manufacturer Mini recently created a custom Mini Hatch for the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, which was eventually auctioned off for charity. Certain components, including the side scuttles (side panels) were customized with Meghan and Harry’s names through 3D printing techniques.
In addition to customization, there is new trend in the automotive industry for re-manufacturing. This is to reduce inventory or generate parts that OEMs may not be producing or storing anymore. Other industries with long lasting products are also using 3D printing to more efficiently and cost effectively produce spare parts for older models. For example Swiss industrial company ABB uses AM to produce spare parts for marine diesel engines, which often have a life of 15-20+ years. With older cast components, tooling is often no longer available. Reference parts and original drawings can be used to create imaging data to 3D print components quickly and cost effectively.
Exhibit 4: For decades, the legendary BMW 507 was thought to be missing, but then the icon was found and restored with meticulous care. Additive manufacturing played an important role in reconstructing the door handle and window lever.
BMW sees huge potential in AM, beyond simply an end to tooling and more cost-effective prototyping. They expect that with time, it will become possible to produce components directly where they are ultimately needed – an idea that harbors tremendous potential. The auto manufacturer is already using AM to make prototype components on location in Spartanburg (US), Shenyang (China) and Rayong (Thailand). Going forward, they believe there is potential to integrate it more fully into local production structures to allow small production runs, country-specific editions and customizable components – provided it represents a profitable solution.
BMW’s management team continues to invest in the additive manufacturing space to seek short-term incremental gains as well as a hope for more radical innovation in the long run. In April 2018 management announced that BMW will spend €10mm on a new dedicated additive manufacturing campus in Munich to consolidate its AM R&D efforts and continue to evaluate new and existing technologies suitable for commercial auto production. BMW has also invested in numerous AM technology startups through its venture capital arm BMW iVentures.
The development of the new i8 Roadster with its 3D printed component was the culmination of a 10 year development process, demonstrating that while the lead times are long, BMW has been able to reap the benefits of early investments in the space. Looking ahead, I think BMW iVentures should also partner with self-driving car startups to incorporate AM expertise into the cars of the future. While this type of technology may be a few years away, this partnership is in line with BMW’s long term strategy of staying at the forefront of auto innovation (recall they have been investing in AM since 1990).
While BMW has made significant progress in AM in recent years, I remain skeptical about its viability in terms of decentralizing manufacturing for a global business such as BMW. While they have shown that incremental innovation gains can be made, I believe large scale decentralized commercialization will be very cost prohibitive, even as technology advances in the long term. In addition to the overall high cost of AM today, cars will require very large 3D printing machines and the printing itself will be slow relative to current traditional production and therefore not conducive to large-scale auto manufacturing.
A few years ago some thought AM wouldn’t move beyond prototyping, but BMW has defied that. The question is, can they go even further and revolutionize the way cars are produced through AM? Is decentralized manufacturing through 3D printing a possibility or is it just a pipe dream?
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 Clare Scott, “BMW Impresses with 3D Printed Roof Bracket for BMW i8 Roadster,” 3D Print, August 13, 2018, https://3dprint.com/222268/bmw-3d-printed-roof-bracket/, accessed November 2018.
 Daniel O’Connor, “The Ultimate Printing Machine – How BMW is applying 3D printing to commercial vehicles,” TCT Magazine, August 21, 2018, https://www.tctmagazine.com/3d-printing-news/the-ultimate-3d-printing-machine-bmw/, accessed November 2018.
 Jeff Kerns, “How 3D Printing Is Changing Auto Manufacturing,” Machine Design, November 14, 2016, https://www.machinedesign.com/3d-printing/how-3d-printing-changing-auto-manufacturing, accessed November 2018.
 “Learn How 3D Printing & Automotive Design Are Merging,” IEEE Spectrum, https://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/advanced-cars/learn-how-3d-printing-automotive-design-are-merging, accessed November 2018.
 “Production of casted spare parts in reduced lead-time,” Swiss AM Guide 2018: Exploring new applications in additive manufacturing, 2018: 38-40, https://app.industry.plus/img-dyn/cms/amnetwork/download/pdf/AMGuide_2018_view.pdf, accessed November 2018.
 “BMW Group plans Additive Manufacturing Campus: Technological expertise in industrial-scale 3D printing to be consolidated at new location,” press release, April 16, 2018, on BMW website, https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/global/article/detail/T0280159EN/bmw-group-plans-additive-manufacturing-campus:-technological-expertise-in-industrial-scale-3d-printing-to-be-consolidated-at-new-location?language=en, accessed November 2018.