BMW AG has found a unique way that 3-D printing could help some assembly workers at a plant in Germany do their jobs.
As part of a pilot project with the Technical University of Munich, the process provides the workers customized, reinforced thumb covers that allow them to press rubber plugs into the vehicle frame with less strain.
Each worker's thumb is measured using a 3-D scanner, and the flexible devices are made to precisely fit those measurements using thermoplastic polyurethane formed in layers the thickness of a human hair.
Positive feedback from the workers has prompted BMW to look at opportunities for 3-D printed aids in other areas of assembly.
BMW said it now makes nearly 100,000 prototype parts a year through "additive production procedures," which it started using in 1989.