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3D Printing Ten Times Faster 3D Printing of Metal Components

Editor: MA Alexander Stark

The Fraunhofer lead project Future AM aims to accelerate the additive production of metal components by at least a factor of 10. Six Fraunhofer Institutes have joined forces to deliver tangible results at Formnext 2019.

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As part of Future AM, the scientists at the Fraunhofer ILT have developed a machine concept for LPBF of large metal components. The result: a large component for the aerospace industry.
As part of Future AM, the scientists at the Fraunhofer ILT have developed a machine concept for LPBF of large metal components. The result: a large component for the aerospace industry.
(Source: Fraunhofer ILT)

The Fraunhofer Future AM lead project was launched in November 2017. To this end, six Fraunhofer Institutes have joined forces to take a holistic look at the digital and physical added value - from order entry to the finished metallic 3D printing component and to venture into a new technology generation of additive manufacturing. The following Fraunhofer Institutes are participating in this project:

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen (project coordination)
  • Fraunhofer Institution for Additive Production Technologies IAPT, Hamburg
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Applied Materials Research IFAM, Bremen
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD, Darmstadt
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS, Dresden
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU, Chemnitz

Metal-3D Printing Becomes Transparent

The Virtual Lab plays an important role in Future AM, which is created in close cooperation between the participating institutes. In future, the Virtual Lab will digitally link all areas and institutes in the field of metallic additive manufacturing (metal AM) via a network and a database. Fritz Lange from the Fraunhofer IAPT explains: “The institutes will use the Virtual Lab to manage and track distributed manufacturing." The plan is to create a closed digital representation of the competencies and equipment of all participating institutes.

The Virtual Lab makes the entire AM process transparent and reflects it digitally: Digital Twins enable project participants to model and simulate processes in order to optimize real systems in all areas. The Virtual Lab is ready for operation and is already being evaluated using so-called dummy data. Currently, the participating institutes are connecting to the Virtual Lab via their database, enabling it to start virtual operation in the near future. The Fraunhofer experts demonstrated its abilities and how it works at Formnext, which took place in Frankfurt am Main from November 19th to 22th, 2019.

Which Materials Can be Processed Additively?

The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden is responsible for the aspects of materials. The focus is on expanding the range of materials that can be used in additive processing and also in multi-material manufacturing: This is where laser metal deposition (LMD) is used to create a tailor-made component from various materials without the need for downstream joining processes. "Our process accelerates material development significantly," says IWS scientist Michael Müller. "In this joint project, we are investigating which materials can be combined with each other and which problems arise when we do so." The Dresden scientists are currently investigating how, for example, a multi-material component can be produced using various superalloys. When joining two materials, the analysis of the transition zone between the materials is particularly important. The researchers have now optimized the material transition from the Inconel 718 alloy to Merl 72 in order to minimize issues such as cracking and embrittlement.

New scalable metal AM processes and machines are the responsibility of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT: Using Extreme High-Speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA), the Aachen-based company succeeded in moving from coating to genuine additive production. Together with industrial partners, they developed a 3D EHLA system. In this system, the construction platform is moved extremely quickly in a parallel kinematic manner by three linear drives with a stationary laser processing head.

Not only suitable for coating rotationally symmetrical components: The EHLA process is now being further developed for the additive production of 3D geometries.
Not only suitable for coating rotationally symmetrical components: The EHLA process is now being further developed for the additive production of 3D geometries.
(Source: Fraunhofer ILT)

Fraunhofer ILT has developed a new, compact optical system for laser powder bed fusion (LPBF). It is being used in the first prototype. This prototype has a build volume of 1000 mm x 800 mm x 500 mm. This means that it can also additively manufacture large metal components up to ten times faster than conventional LPBF systems. In addition, a software model controls the energy input when the powder material is remelted. Christian Tenbrock, research associate at the Fraunhofer ILT and Future-AM project coordinator: "The process parameters can be set individually for each individual melt track in order to increase both component quality and build speed."

Automated Post-Processing Reduces Process Costs

The cost of mostly manual post-processing is particularly high for metal AM: It accounts for up to 70 % of the total process costs. Dr. Ines Dani from the Fraunhofer IWU explains: “Downstream processing steps have not yet been automated, partly because of the different geometries of the parts to be manufactured. s. This is about to change." Fraunhofer IWU is developing various autonomous technology modules for the individual processes. A robot takes over both the workpiece handling and the post-process machining.

Bionic Lever Produced on an LPBF Machine

At Formnext 2019, the Fraunhofer Institutes presented their previous developments within the Future-AM project. Among other things, a bionic lever was exhibited as an example of a large component additively manufactured with a specially designed LPBF machine. A multi-material turbine blade and a rocket nozzle with swirl injectors are further innovations from industries which will soon be conquered by AM. Also on display was a software demo of the Virtual Lab and the model of a system for automating the previously manual and, therefore, time-consuming post-processing.

This article was first published by konstruktionspraxis

Original by Juliana Pfeiffer / Translation by Alexander Stark

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