Is additive manufacturing ready for series production?
Small batches and mass production are somewhat incompatible, because the lower the product price, the more important are high production numbers. While additive processes are not ready for mass production yet, they may be able to mitigate these conflicting interests.
Additive manufacturing processes are increasingly opening up new opportunities to combine aspects of serial and single-part production: Just like good craftsmen, 3D printers are very versatile and can produce different objects without requiring huge initial investments. In terms of cost structure, it makes no difference whether thousand individual or identical geometries are produced, because the modification costs are extremely low. Injection moulding machine maker Arburg, Loßburg, Germany is a company that works with both manufacturing techniques. They say that the combination of injection moulding, additive manufacturing and industry 4.0 technologies allows them to produce large series parts customer-specific in batch sizes as small as 1.
Dr Eberhard Duffner, head of development at Arburg, says about the current state of the art in additive series parts production: “Recently, Arburg presented some materials and material combinations that have real potential for the production of series parts and that in this specific way can only be machined by the Freeformer." According to Duffner, there is a wide variety of usable materials, including PC/ABS blend with flame protection, from which the experimental component "Nautilus Gear” was made, two-component planet rollers made of elastic TPU (Elastollan) and biodegradable PHA (Arboblend), a nutcracker made of bio-polyamide (Grilamid), as well as implants made of absorbable medical polylactide (Resomer), that dissolves on its own within the body after a certain time.
The processing of some bioplastics is particularly noticeable. Possible fields of application for the Freeformer are also identified in the automotive industry - for example, additive manufacturing could be used for small quantities in pre-series production. Asked about development priorities, Duffner says that the component design must meet the requirements of the production process if additive manufacturing techniques are to be used in series production. There are still a lot of unresolved issues in this respect, for example regarding appropriate design guidelines. Another huge topic in terms of suitability for series production is the predictability of quality characteristics in lot sizes of 1, since these depend on many variable slice and process parameters. Currently, the quality of printed parts is mostly assessed based on "fashionable" criteria like surfaces or construction time.
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