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Alphacam: Additive Manufacturing Processes on the Road to Success 3D Printing Opens Up New Dimensions

Editor: Alexander Stark

3D printing can reduce costs, shorten throughput times and enable previously unimaginable component geometries. Read the interview with Martin Folie, Sales Manager Additive Manufacturing and 3D printer at alphacam swiss GmbH about the current trends in 3D printing.

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Impulses for lightweight construction: 3D printing can be used to produce components with a structure that is individually optimized for the stress they need to handle and for minimum mass.
Impulses for lightweight construction: 3D printing can be used to produce components with a structure that is individually optimized for the stress they need to handle and for minimum mass.
(Source: Ecoparts AG)

SMM: What current trends do you see in additive manufacturing?

Martin Folie: The topic of rapid prototyping continues to take center stage. Companies that have so far had little to do with 3D printing have now realized that 3D printing is a serious technology and not just a brief hype. This is why 3D printers are still an attractive option when it comes to quickly producing components that serve as demonstration objects, for functional checks and for comparing different variants - or if you are simply asked to present a sample component.

The second trend is production, using 3D printing, i.e. additive manufacturing - AM. The market is ready for companies already involved in 3D printing to discover applications in which they can gain a greater advantage from 3D-printed components. These can include the reduction of costs, shorter production times or the production of complete assemblies in a single process using 3D printing. But users are increasingly recognizing the advantage of producing components without geometric boundaries. This means you can design components that cannot be manufactured using conventional manufacturing processes. Only 3D printing makes this possible.

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In my point of view, it is important to focus on the development of new components. 3D printing must be taken into account as a possible manufacturing process during the brainstorming phase of the development processes. This unlocks the great potential of designing for 3D printing - the huge freedom of design. However, this requires a rethinking of the developers and designers. This new approach requires a learning process on part of the manufacturing companies. It affects all departments, such as development, construction, production, marketing, assembly and design. You need to understand the peculiarities of 3D printing. Only when the employees grasp its possibilities can 3D printing and thus additive manufacturing unleash its full potential.

How will 3D printing develop in the near future?

M. Folie: In the future, 3D printing with plastic will become faster and more materials can be processed. The devices will become better, but also more expensive. Industrial equipment in particular will deliver much faster results. Stratasys demonstrated this with the Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator and Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator 3D printers two years ago at the IMTS trade show in Chicago. The Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator was developed together with Siemens in just two months. It works with eight axes. A robot gripper arm guides an FDM nozzle and prints components made of polyamide PA12, which contains 35 % carbon fibers, onto a swivel table. Since the printer does not need any supporting material and the plastic flows very quickly in the nozzle, the 3D printing of a 250 mm high component with 135 mm diameter only takes about 43 minutes. This is otherwise not possible with today's FDM technology.

The Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator prints horizontally and thus continuously. The printer is open on the back side. In this way, it can produce components with a length of several meters. The maximum speed at the nozzle is 0.245 m/s. This is achieved by a new technology of the FDM printer head. It uses granulate and an extruder, similar to injection molding. Thanks to this technology, the 3D printer accelerates the process by up to 0.508 m/s. Theoretically, this new head can achieve speeds of 2.54 m/s. Compared with current technologies, this is very fast. This is of course particularly attractive for the production of large components.

Other processes, such as laser sintering, stereolithography and multijet fusion, will also be become more important in the future, because they offer higher speeds and greater material diversity.

How is the quality of 3D-printed components ensured - especially for applications in medicine, automotive and aviation?

M. Folie: There are some materials on the market that have already been certified for the specific applications. These include biocompatible materials for medical applications, which can also come into contact with mucous membranes. Implantable materials are also available. However, no long-term studies have been conducted yet.

Certified plastics and metals for 3D printing are available for the aerospace industry. Stratasys has a certified machine for this purpose. It can manufacture components for the aerospace industry as well as for rail vehicles and automotive applications. The main advantages of these special components are their light weight and extensive freedom of design. A new, very exciting application is the fast delivery of spare parts. This is especially favorable for aviation.

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In your opinion, which peripherals and software software solutions need to be realized in the next one to two years, in order for 3D printing to meet the requirements of industrial users?

M. Folie: CAD manufacturers are already offering modules that can send component data directly from the CAD program to the 3D printer. Current software can calculate topological optimizations of the geometry of components and even edit them to establish links to other components. In addition, software manufacturers will in future take the printing process into consideration and influence its course. For example, it will be possible to prevent the material in thin walls and edges from scorching.

Stratasys has developed GrabCAD Print - an innovative software especially for industrial 3D printing. It is currently only compatible with products of this manufacturer. As it is continuously being updated, it will also be usable in conjunction with 3D printers from other manufacturers in the future.

How do you assess the chances of 'real' series production with additive manufacturing, i.e. quantities of several thousand or ten thousand components per year? Will producers be able to do that in the foreseeable future by using automation?

M. Folie: That's a good but difficult to answer question. I think that with the current 3D printing technologies there is still a lot of potential for improvement with regard to speed. But we a few tens of thousands of components per year will soon push the limits of this technology.

As an example, I would like to mention the manufacturer Desktop Metal. The company intends to launch a metal 3D production machine at the end of 2019. It is supposed to be able to produce 500 water pump wheels within 24 hours for the engine cooling circuit of passenger cars. These are the pure printing times without including the subsequent sintering process. With 500 components per day on one machine, 180,000 pieces can be produced per year. This can already be described as series production. If several of these 3D printers work in a production hall, we have arrived at a 'real' large series production. But we should be open to surprises. Much will still become possible in the coming years.

What should interested parties and users do and consider in advance to ensure that they can use 3D printing efficiently and economically?

M. Folie: As mentioned earlier, working with 3D printing is the most important way to get the most out of 3D printing. To stay informed about the latest news is also part of it. In my opinion, a company should have at least one employee who is constantly occupied with news, developments and trends in the world of technology. Depending on the size of the company, this person may be employed on a monthly basis for a few days or full-time in the case of larger companies. For many companies it is particularly challenging to keep pace with today's development rate on the global market. The flow of information grows exponentially every year. In a few years we will only meet specialists, because an individual can no longer absorb and process the information.

Which basic and advanced training courses can you recommend?

M. Folie: For 3D printing, some institutions and manufacturers of 3D printers are already offering worthwhile courses and advanced training. For example, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Winterthur has been offering courses and academic study content on 3D printing for several years now. The manufacturer Stratasys also offers workshops. Stratasys Academy experts share extensive expertise, from proper 3D printing design to operating and servicing specific 3D printers. Only Alphacam specialists are certified as trainers for the entire German-speaking region.

The interview was conducted by Konrad Mücke SMM.

This article was first published by Schweizer MaschinenMarkt.

Original: Konrad Mücke / Translation: Alexander Stark