Dr Hubert Waltl, head of toolmaking for the Volkswagen group, drives the replica Auto Union Type C around the Ingolstadt toolroom.

Ingolstadt, Germany - This half-scale replica of a 1936 Auto Union Type C Grand Prix racer was assembled from steel and aluminium components made in the Audi toolmaking development centre - on a 3D printer!

No really, the metallic parts were made by selective sintering, building up layer upon layer of melted metal powder with a grain size of between 15 and 40 microns - that's about half the thickness of a human hair.

That makes it possible to print shapes that would be close to impossible to make in one piece by any other method - and the metal density is higher than with either die casting or hot forming.

MASS PRODUCTION

At the moment the process is small-scale; the 3D metal printer can make components only up to 240mm long, 240mm wide and 200mm high - which must have made designing the parts for a model almost two metres long an interesting exercise.

Nevertheless, Dr Hubert Waltl, head of toolmaking for the Volkswagen group - that's him driving the replica! - is looking at possible applications of 3D metal printers for mass-producing complex components.

"We are constantly exploring the boundaries of new processes," he said. "One of our goals is to apply metal printers in series production."

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