Additive manufacturing: 3D printing to perfection

4 min reading time

Almost everyone has heard of 3D printing by now. In the industry it is known as additive manufacturing and is one of the most promising production methods. BMW already recognised this 28 years ago.

27 November 2019

Since 1990, BMW has been researching and producing in the field of additive manufacturing technologies. BMW is a leading pioneer in this field, quickly producing parts of exceptionally high quality. It has become the absolute standard for prototypes – even for the brand’s most exclusive models.

The new BMW i8 Roadster. Lightweight construction thanks to additive manufacturing.

Premiere in the i8 Roadster. The mounting for the top cover would not have been possible using a traditional casting process. Now the 3D printed car part is stronger and weighs less.


Bespoke 3D-printed seats for the British Paralympics Basketball team

The engineers don’t just work on their own vehicles. In 2012 they developed wheelchairs using 3D body scans and the 3D printing. The advantage: optimal fit to the passenger and a considerable reduction in weight. 


Ergonomics from the 3D printer

Innovative assembly aids are used in vehicle production: for example, stoppers made of hard rubber are pressed in by a thumb to close the drain holes for the body paint amongst others. To avoid any unnecessary overstretching of the thumb joint, the finger cots from the 3D printer are pulled over the thumb like a second skin, protecting against excessive strain.

BMW 507 – restoring Elvis’s heirloom

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.

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DTM. Small part, big use. The water pump wheel

It’s often assumed that components in additive manufacturing are only made of plastics. Wrong. For example, in DTM vehicles the water pump wheels used are made of an aluminium alloy. This part – made using 3D printing technologies for metal – is very important for demanding race conditions.

Manufactured for precision

The Additive Manufacturing Centre in Munich:

here’s where it all comes together. Well over 100,000 precision components are developed and manufactured here every year – ranging from prototypes to discontinued parts for classic cars, as well as small plastic mountings and highly-complex chassis parts made of metal.

The technology behind the prototype production

Where’s the difference between additive manufacturing and 3D printing? No one can answer this better than our experts from the Research and Innovation Centre in Munich:

How do you explain additive manufacturing to a layman?

In additive manufacturing –commonly referred to as 3D printing – components are constructed layer upon layer. This does indeed have a certain similarity to a printer, except in this case it “prints” upwards, creating a three-dimensional product in the end. The material can either be plastic or metal, and the component shape is designed on the computer based on digital 3D construction data.

What are the advantages?

The biggest advantage of additive manufacturing is that the process offers a high degree of flexibility in creating the form. Components with complex structures, which are otherwise difficult to produce, can be manufactured  quickly and easily using 3D printing technologies while delivering the desired quality. For instance, if you wanted to make a miniature Eiffel Tower, it would be difficult to recreate the many gaps by using a mill (i.e. subtractive manufacturing). In the additive manufacturing process, a 3D scan of the Eiffel Tower is created, edited in the computer and then “printed” layer for layer.

And what does the future look like?

We see great future potential for serial production and new customer offers, for example for personalised vehicle parts. Customers should be able to have vehicle parts manufactured according to their individual wishes.

In which areas do designers/engineers/technicians today use the process for new or further development of a vehicle?

At BMW, we use additive manufacturing in various areas. Now it is often used where tailor-made and sometimes very complex components are required in small quantities. This is especially the case in pre-development, vehicle validation, and testing, or in concept and show cars. Completely new vehicle developments are a particular highlight for these technologies. For example, in the case of BMW i vehicles for which no predecessor vehicles were available. Therefore, the first prototype vehicles had to be mostly produced with additive manufacturing.

What are the limits of additive manufacturing?

The greatest challenges affect the process and material costs. At present, additive manufacturing is not yet suitable for large-scale production. However, we see a positive development here. New, two-dimensional technologies are an essential key to this.

What are the differences between additive production at BMW and the home of a tinkerer?

Quality, cost and time are the crucial factors here. Components used in the automotive industry have to meet a number of requirements, be 100% reliable and fulfill the legal conditions of different countries. In serial production, each part must have exactly the same quality, be delivered on time and with as little scrap as possible. It’s like comparing a paper printer at home with the printer of a newspaper publisher: in dimension, performance and quality. 

3D printing: precision for everyday use

The manufacturing process at the Additive Manufacturing Centre at BMW doesn’t have much in common with a regular 3D printer for home use, except for one thing: the joy of fast production. 

3D printing at home

We have put together four exclusive BMW originals for you, which can easily and conveniently be printed on your 3D printer at home. Have fun!

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BMW Logo

True “Beemer” fans have long awaited this day: the BMW Logo for reproduction. Whether for the rear-view mirror or as a key chain –  a must have for BMW fans and 3D printing.



BMW Wheel

Your own BMW double spoke from the printer: that is still a dream. But already available here today as a beautiful decoration piece for your 3D printer.


The BMW Four-Cylinder

The central headquarters in Munich, designed by architect Karl Schwanzer. The 101 meter high landmark can now be made with 3D printing.


BMW Welt

Over 3 million people visit BMW Welt in Munich each year. Now you can take your miniature version home. With 3D printing.



The first-ever BMW i8 Roadster.

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