With some $ 16 billion in sales and 80,000 employees, MAHLE (LEVE3.BVMF) is not only one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world, but also an increasingly important player in the 3d printing industry. When a company of this size puts its weight behind a technology, it matters not only for additive manufacturing (AM), but also for global production. For this reason, the announcement that the German group is continuing its partnership with metal 3D printer manufacturer SLM Solutions (AM3D.DE) bodes well for the widespread adoption of AM.
The two companies told the public that MAHLE will use SLM’s equipment to help OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers mass produce 3D printed metal parts. Specifically, MAHLE will focus on aluminum and stainless steel alloys, components optimized by 3D printing topology not possible with conventional processes to reduce overall weight. In their announcement, the partners suggested it would be necessary as automakers strive to meet climate change targets.
â3D printing for mobility just makes sense,â comments Sam O’Leary, CEO of SLM Solutions. âOur cooperation with MAHLE is revolutionizing the production of automotive components by making them better, stronger and lighter, not to mention their climate neutrality.
“The development of new systems and components must be much faster today than it was a few years ago, especially when it comes to solutions for sustainable CO2 neutral drive systems” , says Michael Frick, Chairman of the Board of Directors of MAHLE (ad interim) and Chief Financial Officer. âWith our new 3D printing center and SLM Solutions as a technological partner, MAHLE is once again stepping up the pace in its strategic areas, for example electric mobility.
Interestingly, one of the 3D printing applications that MAHLE is best known for doesn’t appear to be the most environmentally friendly. In 2020, the company worked with metal 3D printer maker TRUMPF to 3D print rigid lightweight pistons for Porsche using laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) technology. While the components, along with a 3D printed charge air cooler, likely contributed to the Porsche 911 GT2 RS being more fuel efficient, a feature that will be needed for the switch to electronic vehicles, it is difficult. imagine a world in which more efficient sports cars will help mitigate global warming.
Perhaps more closely aligned with climate goals, parts from MAHLE have also been used in the production of Urwahn’s e-bikes, which feature 3D-printed metal frames and run on MAHLE electric motors. However, again, we note that the price of these vehicles starts at $ 5,000, limiting ostensibly green mobility to the upper middle class.
While AM, in this case, may or may not contribute to overall carbon emissions, it will impact the world of automotive manufacturing. SLM Solutions suggests that around 120 of its metal 3D printers are already operating in the automotive sector. MAHLE’s 3D printing center in Stuttgart will speed up prototype production for its OEM customers, reducing manufacturing time from months to days. MAHLE will direct its energy towards thermal management, mechatronics and electronics, with an SLM Solutions application engineer supporting the company throughout the process.
The 500 square meter Stuttgart site already houses an SLM 280 machine and five employees. This new deal suggests they may have to expand. With the companies hinting that the goal is to help drive mass production for auto OEMs, does that mean MAHLE will one day take on the company’s NXG XII 600 12-laser machine? This wouldn’t be surprising, given that Porsche has previously used the system to 3D print a proof-of-concept electric drive box or that hypercar builder Divergent is a customer of NXG XII.
If MAHLE ended up buying one of these machines, that would be a significant achievement for SLM, as half of the vehicles in the world contain MAHLE parts, according to the conglomerate. According to “Additive manufacturing for the production of auto parts – 2019 – 2029A report from SmarTech Analysis, automotive 3D printing represents a revenue opportunity of $ 9 billion. With companies like MAHLE embracing the technology, it would be surprising if SmarTech’s projections were right on the money.