Many believed the 3D printer already in the land of portable DVD players and mini-discs. Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence and the Blockchain were the technology trends of recent years and pushed additive manufacturing into the background. 2019 looks different again. But who thinks now, the 3D printing would make his comeback, which is wrong, because he was never really gone.
How the additive manufacturing, i.e. the method of 3D printing, has prepared for the time after the hype, how the technology is now used and why especially startups should take the step into additive manufacturing.
The products are coming to market more quickly
Three dimensional printing is increasingly supplementing or replacing conventional processes. Medical technology, the automotive industry and the aerospace industry have been relying on technology for years to optimize their processes. After all, the biggest advantage of additive manufacturing is the enormous time savings.
“Especially in the automotive industry, the entire development runs without tools and thus much faster, the products are more rapidly on the market,” says Tobias King, Director of Marketing & Applications at the 3D printing systems manufacturer voxeljet from Friedberg near Augsburg. Turbocharger molds, for example, are printed within a week, then tested and then modified on the computer, if necessary. The CAD software adapts the developers digitally with a few clicks.
The corresponding program calculates the different levels. The 3D printer builds them up layer by layer. Material is only connected where it is needed or as a supporting structure. This offers developers, engineers or even architects a new variety of geometric shapes. Smallest quantities or individual parts, for example for prototypes, can be produced and validated at low cost and then converted into series production.
Often, additive manufacturing and conventional techniques go hand in hand. “For us, the method of additive manufacturing offers interesting perspectives, especially when supplementing our manufacturing processes,” says Cesare Troglio, Head of the Technology and Innovation Division of the German Foundry Industry Association (BDG). Many foundries use the process either to make molds or make models and mold inserts. They combine additive manufacturing with the proven casting methods.
New opportunities and challenges thanks to electromobility
Especially the electromobility and the lightweight construction in the automotive industry bring new opportunities and challenges for additive manufacturing. For example, a study initiated by the BDG found that although some engine components for the foundry companies will be eliminated by the new drive concepts, overall the casting production for hybrid and electric drives will increase.
And here again, additive manufacturing comes into play. Especially in the case of electric vehicles, the thermal management of both the engine and the battery plays a major role. The necessary temperature control channels come from the foundry. “This requires complex cavities that can not be produced by forming or welding,” explains Troglio. Additive manufacturing provides additional potential for the optimal design of the new components.
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Why 3D printing is not a panacea, after all
According to production expert Franz-Josef Wöstmann from the Fraunhofer Institute IFAM in Bremen, “Additive manufacturing” is a supplement, not a substitution. “Too high are the costs for additively manufactured components, says also Troglio. Many 3D printers are reaching their limits at the latest, where high volumes can be achieved economically with conventional production processes. In addition, it lacks the appropriate professionals here.
For founders or young companies, additive manufacturing is the ideal playground
Not only in the field of design, but also in simulation, software or as a service in engineering opens up new possibilities. Startups could help equipment manufacturers to refine their processes, with a focus on issues such as process control and automation. Some vendors sell their printers open with no material, so you can work with nylon thread on one day and foam on the next. Another option for startups: you partner with a material manufacturer and develop a completely new product. As a service and to ensure cash flow, founders might offer printing like a kind of copy shop – after all, not everyone has to and can not own such a device.
3D success story: from spin-off to global leader
How a startup can develop into a major player is shown by voxeljet. The company uses inkjet printheads that are very similar to office printers. Of these, industrial printing modules can be lined up to increase both the pressure rates and to increase the installation space. Currently, the maximum here is eight cubic meters. “It’ll take us about two days,” says King. However, the “unpacking” of the parts and the removal of unprinted sand is still done by hand – still. Because when it comes down to Bayern, this will soon come to an end: At the GIFA trade fair in Düsseldorf at the end of June, the former spin-off of the Technische Universität München wants to present a new concept. “A milestone for the additive industry” King is convinced.
Also published on Medium.