Is additive manufacturing ready for series production?
Pushing for mass customisation
In comparison, mechanical properties like tensile strength, tear resistance, density, or changes in the chemistry of the raw material are crucial in the additive manufacturing of "real" functional components, says the machine manufacturer’s development expert. When asked about short-term trends, the experts from the Black Forest have this to say: “Generally, increasing product diversity, special customer-specific small-batch solutions and short life cycles will be arguments for an increasing number of plastic processing operations to integrate an additive manufacturing system into their operations."
At Fakuma 2015, Arburg demonstrated three Freeformers for industrial additive manufacturing. Under the main topic of "production efficiency", two exhibits were illustrating the "Industrie 4.0 – powered by Arburg" concept, producing individualised high-volume injection moulded parts for mass customisation. In order to automate the Freeformer, the Arburg experts have pooled their skills to devise a solution that is truly unique in the world of additive manufacturing, the company said. The machine now features a Euromap 67 interface that allows it to communicate with the robotic system. The cover is opened and closed fully automatically and the part carrier has also been adapted.
For tool and mould makers, metal additive manufacturing is an increasingly implemented technology, as it allows to for example create complex shapes as needed for close-contour cooling channels. EOS in Krailing near Munich is a specialist for metal laser sintering technology. A selection of powders from aluminium, high-tensile maraging steel, stainless steel, and titanium to nickel and cobalt-chrome-alloys enables the flexible production of metal components. Recently, the company introduced the material "EOS Stainless Steel CX", an extremely corrosion-resistant high-tensile steel with excellent hardness. When asked about arguments for additive manufacturing, Peter Segrodnik says: “Generally, additive manufacturing has its strengths in areas where conventional production reaches its limit." According to Segrodnik, the technology comes in where construction, design and production must be rethought in order to find viable solutions. Additive manufacturing would enable a "design-driven manufacturing process” where design determines production - not the other way around! This is a clear statement aimed at the production of individual geometries that are difficult to manufacture with traditional techniques. EOS offers a high degree of design freedom, functional optimisation and integration, the production of small batch sizes at reasonable average costs and a high degree of product individualisation - also in series production. This makes it possible to utilise the benefits of additive processes in small series - a huge advantage in the manufacturing of components that cannot be produced with current technologies.
Industrialising additive manufacturing
At the last Formnext exhibition in Frankfurt, industrialisation, including how to move AM into mass production was a dominating topic as well. For instance, visitors were able to virtually explore Additive Industries' Metal-FAB1 industrial metal AM system, which celebrated its world premiere at the exhibition. The Eindhoven (NL)-based company is dedicated to bringing metal additive manufacturing for functional parts from "lab to fab", it says, by offering a modular 3D printing system and seamlessly integrated information platform to high-end and demanding industrial markets. The machine's multiple build chambers with individually integrated powder handling make this industrial 3D printer the first to combine up to four materials simultaneously in one single machine, the company explained. Furthermore, more and more companies offering complementing technologies are co-operating to move AM to the next level – including the mould and die making sector.
Additive manufacturing enables the production of metal mould inserts that feature conformal cooling to ensure and control temperature homogeneity for shorter cycle times. GF Machining Solutions and EOS collaborate to integrate AM into companies’ production process, because additive manufacturing is not employed as stand-alone technology in the mould shop. “Many solutions we have developed together with our customers are a combination of additive and substractive manufacturing processes,” EOS founder Dr Hans J. Langer says. “So from a strategic perspective it was a logical step to partner with one of the leading machine tool companies in the mould and die sector, in this case GF Machining Solutions.”