Additive Manufacturing "NextGenAM" Puts Pilot Plant into Operation
Premium Aerotec, Daimler and EOS launched the "NextGenAM" project a year ago. The aim was to develop the basics of a production system for series production with 3D printing technology.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is becoming increasingly gaining importance in industrial applications — this includes series production. Against this background, the aerospace supplier Premium Aerotec, the automobile manufacturer Daimler and the provider of industrial 3D printing applications EOS, have joined forces to develop the basic conditions for next generation additive manufacturing in the "NextGenAM" project. Since the official start of the project in May 2017, the project team has tested the automation potential of the entire AM process. The first pilot plant has now been put into operation at Premium Aerotec's technology center in Varel.
The aim of the project was to develop a complete system for the production of aluminum components for the automotive and aerospace industries. The pilot plant set up for this purpose, consists of machines for additive production, post-processing and quality assurance. A special feature: Most individual steps and the interaction of all additive and conventional processes are fully automated and integrated — without manual steps. In this way, complex, light and stable components can be produced automatically.
The Pilot Plant in Detail
The core of the pilot production chain is the four-laser EOS M 400-4 system for metal-based industrial 3D printing. The system is used in combination with the peripherals of the supplier's shared modules concept. For example, the EOS M 400-4 in Varel is equipped with a powder station and connected to a stand-alone set-up and unpacking station. Irrespective of the actual production process, individual process steps can therefore be carried out: loading and unloading of the system with the aluminum material, setting up the system for new orders and unpacking the finished components from the powder bed. The additive components are transported between the individual stations fully automatically and under protective gas in a container on a driverless transport vehicle.
The subsequent post-processing is already automated to an extensive degree: A robot takes the building platform with the components from the set-up station and places them in a furnace for post-heat treatment. The same robot arm then removes the building platform again and forwards it to a 3D measuring station for quality assurance. Finally, the construction platform arrives at a saw that separates the parts from the platform. Then, the components are ready for further use.
In the coming months, the pilot process chain will be further tested at the Technology Centre in Varel and parts of the plant will be audited. In addition, production data will be collected and evaluated in order to collect accurate data on process times, profitability and cost optimization.
About the Project Partners
EOS claims to be the global technology and quality leader for high-end industrial 3D printing applications. Premium Aerotec is the world's first manufacturer to supply 3D printed structural components for Airbus planes constructed in series production. So far, titanium powder has been used as the basic material, however, the project is also aiming to qualify aluminum. The automobile manufacturer Daimler contributes their experience in mass production.
This article was first published by Automobil Industrie.