BMW & Additive Manufacturing: Using New Technologies to Drive Down Production Costs & Timelines

BMW is committed to using additive manufacturing to increase production efficiencies as well as allow for easier part replacements.

Automotive Industry & Additive Manufacturing:

The automotive industry has a long history of creating and utilizing cutting edge technologies to increase production efficiencies, starting with the father of the production line, Henry Ford. Since his breakthroughs, car manufacturers have continued to innovate and use new technologies to cut costs and decrease production times. Most recently, car manufacturers have turned to additive manufacturing. Instead of using molds or other shaping tools, additive manufacturing takes a digital model, and produces a part or item by ‘printing’ it layer by layer. In theory, it can produce items more cheaply, quickly, and flexibly.[1]

 

How is BMW Using Additive Manufacturing?

BMW is one of the many automotive brands investing in this technology. The company’s main goal with additive manufacturing (AM) is to decrease production costs and throughput time, to bring new products to market more quickly and cheaply, as well as produce existing products more cheaply. For new products, AM offers a more streamlined prototyping and development phase – unlike other prototyping methods, digital models can be tweaked in an instant and the output changes immediately.[2] And once successfully prototyped, BMW says that AM has the promise to greatly decrease production time, as it is five to ten times faster than existing technologies.[3] Furthermore, AM is a more efficient production process, and produces less scrap, saving on production costs.[4]

With the same goal of reducing production costs and throughput time, BMW uses AM to supplement its factory workers’ efficacy and tenure at the company – they understand that retaining experienced workers means less money and time spent on training. In 2014, BMW used AM to create an ergonomic tool that protects workers’ thumb joints against excess strains, with each piece customized to each individual worker’s hand.[5]

BMW also leverages AM to improve the process of creating and finding spare parts both for current models a well as older collectibles. Not only does this decrease production time & costs, it also greatly improves the value for the consumer, as they are able to fix their vehicles much more quickly. We see this in BMW’s motorcycle division, Motorrad, where they have started offering a 3D printer system called BMW Motorrad iParts to their sales partners, who can now print parts on demand.[6]  Similarly for collectible models, the parts market is now turning to AM to create older, hard to find parts.[7]

 

What is BMW’s Strategy for Investing in Additive Manufacturing in the Future?

BMW has been developing their AM capabilities since 1991.[8] Most recently, they’ve dramatically ramped up their investments in the space, both for short and long term goals. In the short term, BMW plans to continue to use additive manufacturing for product development, specifically for prototyping.[9] For the Rolls-Royce Phantom, additive manufacturing was used to prototype items like “high-visibility plastic holders for hazard-warning lights, centre lock buttons, electronic parking brakes and sockets.”[10]

In the medium term, BMW is relying on partnerships and investments to ensure that they remain on the cutting edge of AM developments, so that they can ultimately bring it to a series production.[11] Through their venture arm BMW iVentures, the company has partnered and invested in many companies in the field, including Desktop Metal, 3D Systems, and Carbon. By outsourcing this development, BMW can focus on their core capabilities yet remain open to new technologies. 

 

What Else Should They Consider?

As BMW increases its AM capabilities, the company should consider how it can be used for customization. There is a huge opportunity to allow consumers to customize the look and feel of their vehicles – and now via AM, it can be done without a huge cost or timeline.

And as AM technology develops, BMW should also consider how they can bring part replacement closer to the customer. Similar to what they’re doing for Motorrad and motorcycles, perhaps in the future, they can supply every BMW dealer and repair shop with AM technology, so they can more quickly and easily service vehicles and create parts.

 

Questions for BMW’s Future:

Will a shift in production costs and part availability drive down their brand equity and perception as a luxury manufacturer, and decrease consumers’ willingness to pay? From a competitor standpoint, as mid-level manufacturers also invest in AM and improve the production quality of their vehicles, how will BMW ensure that they are able to charge higher margins and retain market share?

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[1] A. Brown. Chain reaction: Why additive manufacturing is about to transform the supply chain. Mechanical Engineering 140, no. 10 (October 2018): 30–35.

[2] A. Brown. Chain reaction: Why additive manufacturing is about to transform the supply chain. Mechanical Engineering 140, no. 10 (October 2018): 30–35.

[3] Ed Richardson.  “BMW Group refines additive manufacturing on premium Rolls-Royce brand”, Automotive Industries, vol 196, no. 3, pp. 32-34, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[4] Craig A. Giffi, Bharath Gangula, Pandarinath Illinda, “3D Opportunity in the Automotive Industry,” Deloitte University Press, 2014, p. 4, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/additive-manufacturing-3d-opportunity-in-automotive/DUP_707-3D-Opportunity-Auto-Industry_MASTER.pdf, accessed November 2018.

[5] Graeme Roberts, “BMW Group prioritises factory digitalisation and ergonomics as workforce ages”, Just-Auto Global News, March 2016, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[6] “BMW Motorrad iParts Revolutionises Spare Parts Management.” M2 Presswire, April 2018, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[7]Jake Meister, “BMW Examines Past, Present, Future use of 3D Printing.” Product Design & Development, 2015, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[8] Jake Meister, “BMW Examines Past, Present, Future use of 3D Printing.” Product Design & Development, 2015, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[9] Ed Richardson, “BMW Group refines additive manufacturing on premium Rolls-Royce brand”, Automotive Industries, vol 196, no. 3, pp. 32-34, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[10] Ed Richardson, “BMW Group refines additive manufacturing on premium Rolls-Royce brand”, Automotive Industries, vol 196, no. 3, pp. 32-34, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

[11] “Google Moon Shot could Give Industrial 3D Printing a Boost.” Industry Week, 2017, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.

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3 thoughts on “BMW & Additive Manufacturing: Using New Technologies to Drive Down Production Costs & Timelines

  1. Great article! It was very interesting to see how additive manufacturing can improve not only customer related activities, but also employee satisfaction. I have never thought about this link. Probably many other industries can adopt AM as a tool of improving their working environment.

    Regarding the open questions, I actually believe that AM will be a key tool for BMW to differentiate itself among competitors in an increasingly tough industry. The millennial generation is buying fewer cars than older generations[1] and it will force automotive companies to innovate more to prove their relevance. As you have already stated, AM helps BMW to prototype more cars with lower costs.

    I do not think customers can notice if production costs and part availability change. In the case of BMW, I believe that their customers are much less price-sensitive than customers of other popular brands such as GM or Ford. Therefore, I believe BMW does not need to pass their cost reductions to price reduction. Instead, they can use the efficiency gains to invest in quality, innovation and customer service. Those investments can help BMW stand out even more compared to competitors.

    [1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/10/16/why-millennials-are-buying-fewer-cars-than-older-generations/#33c38cae7726

  2. I think this is a great application of additive manufacturing and it is great to see that big automotive companies like BMW are open to incorporate this technology to their processes. In my opinion, this has the potential to become a competitive advantage depending on the strategy that they follow going forward. On that note, I read a press release of the company (please see link below) in which they explain some of the recent and potential next steps on additive manufacturing. They are planning to open a campus in Germany to consolidate their technological expertise in the field and eventually they want to decentralize the use of printers by integrating them in different existing production facilities.

    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

  3. Enjoyed reading this! I echo the points above that I feel as though BMW will have to continue exploring ways in which additive manufacturing will reduce costs for them and allow them to retain a competitive advantage. I saw that Audi, one of BMWs main competitors, recently announced a partnership with a 3D printing company called Stratasys to accelerate their design and innovation process for taillights (reference below). This partnership will allow Audi to reduce the time it takes to design tail lights and will allow them to seek feedback from potential customers in a much more accelerated fashion. BMW is going to have to continue to find ways that additive manufacturing can help it stand out against its competitors such as Audi and Mercedes. Additionally, to one of the questions you posed, I too wonder how 3D printing will affect BMW’s brand. Given customers today pay a premium for the hand crafted nature and quality of a BMW vehicle, I tend to think that 3D printing may tarnish that brand if it goes too far in replacing some of the hand production that is done today.

    http://additivemanufacturing.com/2018/06/07/audi-adopts-stratasys-full-color-multi-material-3d-printing-to-innovate-and-accelerate/

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