3D Printing — Possibilities and Current Limitations
The Fraunhofer IPA hosted a user forum on additive manufacturing. The speakers presented successful developments and technological hurdles. Of particular interest was the topic of integrating 3D printing into a company's own processing chain.
It is too expensive, too slow, the level of automation is much too low. Currently additive manufacturing is more suitable for companies that can afford to experiment with new technology. But it is also gaining ground and offers a lot of potential in very different areas during and after the production process. The Fraunhofer IPA's "21st User Forum — Additive Manufacturing in Industry" focused on the status of this technology and on what materials and technology can and cannot achieve yet.
Ceramic Printing Conquers the Jewelry Business
Richard Gaigon from 3DCeram spoke about the possibilities of ceramic printing. “This industry uses stereolithography and lasers because it delivers a much higher quality,” Gaigon explains. The basic powder consists of 60 % ceramics, the final product has a density of 98.3 — i.e. there is hardly any difference to ceramics produced in the traditional way. Important customers come from the luxury goods industry. Maybe your Chanel watch was printed.
However, the focus of the event was on printing plastics. Jonas Fischer from Fraunhofer IPA, for example, emphasized the potential of fiber-reinforced 3D printed materials: "A new nozzle design and extended thermal treatment could considerably simplify the process and widen the area of applications.
Additive Manufacturing in the Industrial Process
Agor also processes plastic. They use the FLM (Fused Layer Modeling, also known as FDM and FFF), it belongs to the melting layer method. Evgeniy Khavkin explains that they have replaced the standard printer with a robot-based system. For this purpose, the company has also developed its own software that is compatible with all common robots.
Arburg is also working on the practical implementation in an industrial environment. The injection molding machine manufacturer is trying to integrate its Freeformer into the processing chain. Eberhard Duffner mentions the challenges involved, such as signal exchange with the robot, inline measurement, which should work with automatic height correction, an automatic door which must of course be coupled with the loading and unloading robot or the planning of cleaning cycles.
What's more, even batch size 1 products are likely to be printed later on. To do this, the data and design of the printed object must be separated from those of the machine, and it must be designed on the basis of the batch variance of the source material.
Metal Printing Will Improve Metal Processing
Autodesk expressed in a very different way. In his keynote speech, Alexander Oster argued in favor of metal printing: "Metal is more advanced than plastic" was the message that drew the attention of the audience, which came mainly from the plastics sector. His argument was that conventional metalworking processes — especially casting — are not suitable. Although metal 3D printing will probably only pay off as a substitute for casting at the earliest by 2020, metal printers are already profitable for small batch sizes. This is because molding is still much cheaper.
Problem with the Simulation
Oster also mentioned that it is now possible to simulate the printing process. Florian Fischer from Robert Bosch had more to say about this. From a user’s point of view, he explained the problems they were confronted with in the printing of trays for electronic components. The first attempt failed because the plastic product was curved in the middle. Only several tests revealed the right technique, but the simulation software did not help much. The bottom line: everyone has to rethink their usual methods. New designs and structures need to be rethought, operators need to understand the process and the software needs to communicate with the printer.
This article was first published by MaschinenMarkt.
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