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3D Printing Helped Create The New BMW iX, Will It Help Produce It Too?

BMW Group is now ready to enter a new era for its EV range, by introducing the new BMW iX. Conceived from the outset for purely electric mobility, the iX sees BMW redefining the successful Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) concept, initially presented two years ago with the iNEXT project. A defining characteristic of the iX/iNEXT is the front grille, which will house sensors and electronic connectors and is vital for highly-automated driving. It allows the integration of camera technology, radar functions and further sensors required for highly developed driver assistance systems into the front end of the vehicle. The original prototype of the grille was 3D printed. However, will the production of the grille component also involve additive manufacturing?

It probably would make sense for BMW to use AM to produce the entire grille, or parts of it, in order to support a complex geometry necessary to house all electronic connectors and sensors in an optimized space. However, the company has not made any specific reference to AM yet. All images relative to the iX production line, show the grille as a pre-made component, which could indicate the use of a separate 3D printing line to manufacture it.

We do know that the grille (and several other advanced components of the EV) will be produced at the BMW Group Landshut center, which has invested a total of over 50 million euros in innovative components for the BMW iX/iNEXT and further future vehicle models. 3dpbm is not aware of any AM production lines present at BMW Group Landshut center at this time, however, it seems unlikely that one of the most advanced automotive manufacturing centers does not house any 3D printers.

The kidney grille, developed at the BMW Group’s Landshut Lightweight Construction and Technology Center (LuTZ), is symbolic of the transformation of the sector: for the BMW iNEXT, the brand-characterizing radiator grille will become a multifunctional, innovative high-tech component. Apart from the grille, the Landshut plant will also produce further innovative components for the cockpit and the electric drive system for the iNEXT/iX, but also structural components made from carbon fiber compound materials such as CFRP, for example. The light metal casting department provides the housing for the future electric drive motor and also developed the globally unique Injector Casting Process (ICA), whereby the electric drive system for the BMW iNEXT does without rare earths.

The distance between automated CFRP manufacturing and light casting to additive manufacturing, either in terms of direct AM (either Carbon’s, HP’s or metal AM technologies) or indirect 3D printed casts (such as Voxeljet’s VJET X process) is small and thinning. If AM technologies have not yet been implemented in the production of the iX, they will likely be soon. We will continue to keep a close eye on this product.