The Volkswagen brand's toolmaking unit has added an advanced 3D printing centre to its facilities in Wolfsburg which will allow the production of complex vehicle parts.

With the new centre, toolmaking is implementing a key point of the pact for the future concluded in 2016 and expanding its production competences with subsidies from the Innovation Fund II.

"The 3D printing centre takes VW's additive manufacturing activities to a new level," said Andreas Tostmann, Volkswagen brand production chief.

"In two to three years' time, three-dimensional printing will also become interesting for the first production parts. In the future, we may be able to use 3D printers directly on the production line for vehicle production."

The new generation of 3D printers developed in cooperation with HP is the most modern within the group and is based on the binder jetting process, which supplements the previous selective laser melting (SLM) process. Binder jetting makes metallic 3D printing considerably easier and faster. In future, it will be possible to manufacture production parts in addition to prototypes.

At the 3D printing centre, which has a floor space of 3,100 sq m, toolmakers, planners and researchers cooperate closely on the development of new products and processes. Within the framework of the pact for the future, a new additive manufacturing unit providing 11 future-oriented jobs has been established.

To date, the group has mainly used the SLM process for 3D printing with metals. In this process, the material used, such as steel, is applied to a base plate in a thin layer. A laser beam then melts the powder at the points where the component is to be created. The molten powder hardens, forming a solid material layer. The new printers will now allow the use of other 3D printing processes such as binder jetting. In this additive process, components are manufactured using a metal powder and a binder applied in layers. The metal part which has been printed is then 'baked' in a sintering process. In future, the various processes, which each have specific applications, will supplement each other.