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Additive Manufacturing

Pilot Project for Automated 3D Metal Printing Successfully Completed

| Editor: Alexander Stark

The "NextGenAM" joint project has so far demonstrated great potential for spare parts and series production in terms of manufacturing costs. The aim is to develop a pilot plant for an automated additive manufacturing process. 3D printing is thus well on its way to further establishing itself as an additional production method in the automotive and aviation sectors.

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The pilot plant set-up in the NextGenAM project for automated additive manufacturing in detail, from left to right: Band saw, Kuka robot, behind it: 3D measuring station (Geometric Optical Measurement / GOM), set-up station, unpacking station, in front of it: Transport vehicle (AGV), EOS M 400-4, not in the picture: Powder Station IPM M Powder Station L from EOS.
The pilot plant set-up in the NextGenAM project for automated additive manufacturing in detail, from left to right: Band saw, Kuka robot, behind it: 3D measuring station (Geometric Optical Measurement / GOM), set-up station, unpacking station, in front of it: Transport vehicle (AGV), EOS M 400-4, not in the picture: Powder Station IPM M Powder Station L from EOS.
( Source: EOS )

How it all began

Since 2017, Premium Aerotec, Daimler and EOS have joined forces to develop the framework conditions for the next generation of additive manufacturing in the "NextGenAM" project. Since the official start in May 2017, the project team has been testing the automation potential of the entire AM process. The first pilot plant was put into operation at Premium Aerotec's technology centre in Varel.

Click here to read now what has happened so far!

The aim of the pilot project was to develop a next-generation digitized production line capable of producing aluminum parts for the automotive and aerospace industries much more economically than was previously possible. The successful outcome of NextGenAM: In relation to the entire production process at Premium Aerotec, the manufacturing costs could be reduced by up to 50 % compared to previous plants for 3D printing.

Fully Automatic Production

The secret lies in a sophisticated, scalable additive production chain, which is fully automated until the printed parts are mechanically cut off from the support plate. This means that from data preparation and central powder supply through the actual AM construction process to heat treatment, quality assurance and separation of the components from the support plate, no manual work is required. The technical core of the system is the four-laser EOS M 400-4 system for metal-based industrial 3D printing. A driverless transport system and robots ensure a smooth passage of the parts through the entire production line.

Networking of All Machines

The entire production process controls itself without operating personnel via a central, autonomous control station. The basis is the networking of all the machines used. The order data is transferred to the control station, which prioritizes the individual construction orders and assigns them to an AM system. During the construction process, the production status can also be called up from any location. Once the entire production chain has been completed, the quality reports are sent back to the central control station. This provides all the data required to create a digital twin, which, among other things, enables comprehensive traceability.

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Capacity Can Be Extended at Will

A continuous 3D data chain with integrated quality management makes the production plant one of the first applications of the future standard Industry 4.0. Production is completely scalable: The capacity of the factory can be increased by duplicating the production lines. This promises further substantial savings in the future as the number of units increases. Today's pilot plant is already capable of producing components automatically in series quality.

High Product Quality Is Standard

High product quality is standard in the pilot plant: For aerospace parts, the use of a high-strength aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy (also known as scalmalloy) is planned. In the automotive sector, a classic aluminum alloy (AlSi10Mg) is used, the material properties of which have been continuously improved in the course of the pilot project. Among other things, the material strength values and the surface quality were significantly increased compared to the start of the cooperation two years ago.

3D Printing as a Production Method of the Future

After the previous quality checks have been passed with promising results, an audit according to the specifications of the strict industry standard VDA 6.3 is in preparation. At Daimler, this is a prerequisite for the delivery of series components for a contract printing supplier. With the automation of the complete AM production chain, larger quantities will be possible in series production - with the same reliability, functionality, durability and economy as with components from conventional production. Parts for new vehicles can be optimized for 3D printing at the design stage, which promises further cost advantages. In addition, 3D printing results in weight advantages, which is of particular interest for electric vehicles. For spare parts, 3D printing has the advantage that storage costs can be saved in the future - if parts are manufactured "on demand" instead.

This article was first published by konstruktionspraxis.

Original by Dorothee Quitter / Translation by Alexander Stark

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Ampower GmbH & Co. KG; Pixabay; Christoph Mack; Audi; EOS; Daimler; gemeinfrei; Kuka; Tobias Hase/EOS; MPA Stuttgart; Amendate; Boston Consulting Group; Unsplash; Messe Düsseldorf / ctillmann; NuernbergMesse / Heiko Stahl; NuernbergMesse / Frank Boxler; NürnbergMesse; Bühler Group; Marposs