09.11.2017 12:11

3D Printing: Growth – Layer by Layer

Still labeled as hype just a few years back, 3D printing has now developed into a relevant production process. Experts speak here of “additive manufacturing”, as objects are generated layer by layer, that is a new layer is continually added.

3D Printing: A New Dimension in Manufacturing Technology

Still labeled as hype just a few years back, 3D printing has now developed into a relevant production process. Experts speak here of “additive manufacturing”, as objects are generated layer by layer, that is a new layer is continually added. Mostly plastic, ceramic or metal powder is melted grain for grain, layer for layer using lasers or infrared light until the desired form is achieved. The layers are only hundredths of a millimeter thick. The process enables completely new, weight-saving honeycomb structures to be produced which would be impossible using conventional technologies – light, stable geometries with hollow spaces which cannot be generated at all by drilling or injection molding.


Central Warehouse and Delivery Times – Soon a Thing of the Past?

“Besides the advantage of producing customized parts, additive manufacturing has great economic potential,” says Frank Böttger, Team Manager Software and Automation Competence Center at OSB AG. Leading experts from research and development agree. Expert prognoses – whether from the Steinbeis Institute, KPMG, Bitkom, VDMA or the Fraunhofer Institute – are making people sit up and take notice. The strategy consultancy KPMG, for instance, anticipates that additive manufacturing will have a serious effect on relevant industries and on individual companies. They expect it to dramatically change the face of production. According to the Steinbeis Institute, additive manufacturing would make it possible to involve customers at an early stage of the production process. Additional advantages cited by the Steinbeis Institute include a high level of design freedom, customization and a shorter time to market. If a part wears, for example, a replacement can be produced and printed directly on-site. In this way, material bottlenecks are avoided and huge central warehouses, long transport routes and delivery times become a thing of the past. This should also have a positive effect on logistics costs.


Tailwind for the Aviation Industry

The aviation industry, in particular, relies on 3D printing. Geometric freedom and weight reduction are keywords here for an industry in which every gram saved is of decisive importance. “With the laser melting process, parts can be produced which are even better, lighter and more durable than the parts produced today using conventional methods,” says Prof. Claus Emmelmann, Head of the Institute of Laser and System Technologies (iLAS) at the Hamburg University of Technology. A weight reduction of around 30 to 50 percent per part is expected. Furthermore, material waste during laser melting amounts to only 5 percent, whereas up to 95 percent is wasted during the conventional milling of aircraft parts.

Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, has entered into a cooperation with Stratasys and thereby opted for the FMD thermoplastic material ULTEM 9085. Airbus has already been using this plastic to generate thousands of parts by means of 3D printing for the Airbus 350 XWB, which was produced at the end of 2014. The aircraft parts are thereby not only lighter but also more rigid and less inflammable. Airbus is also able to produce the parts more cost-efficiently, faster and with greater flexibility. Moreover the products can be supplied without delay. Airbus boss Tom Enders expects “that by 2030 so many metal parts will be replaceable with lighter elements from 3D printers that an Airbus A350 will be around one ton lighter”.

In future, Airbus wants to produce around 10 percent of its parts and replacement parts, such as wing flaps or hydraulic tanks, itself and has already procured several 3D printers for this purpose. In 2016, serial production of titanium and stainless steel parts commenced and, from 2017, aluminum will be added to the list.


A Car from the 3D Printer?

It is not only the aviation industry which is gaining momentum with 3D printing. The automotive industry, too, is exploiting its advantages. More than 100,000 prototype parts are produced each year in the automotive area by means of 3D printing. “For everything from the antenna and engine mount to the heat shield and water pump wheel, 3D printing opens up whole new possibilities in automotive engineering applications with respect to production and cost-efficiency,” says Markus Kohlwig, Senior Executive Manager in the Engineering Business Area at OSB AG.

The best example comes from car manufacturer BMW, which has now equipped many of its plants with 3D printers. If a part is required urgently in the US or China, it is quicker and cheaper to produce it with the printer. “A car from the 3D printer? It is doubtful if that will ever happen,” says Denis Sisic, Founder and CEO of OSB AG. “Nevertheless a good 3,000 parts in a prototype come from the 3D printer today.”


Hearing Aids, Dental Prostheses – and Bones

In the area of Medical Engineering, 3D printing is already established. Almost all hearing aid manufacturers work with it. And dental laboratories are increasingly drawing on this technology. “On our machines, dental prostheses are produced for five million patients each year,” says Güngör Karas from the 3D printing machine manufacturer Eos in Krailling near Munich. One machine can print 400 tooth crowns overnight – on a surface the size of a chess board. Bikom CEO Bernhard Rohleder foresees the disappearance of entire professions: “Will there still be dental technicians in ten years? I don’t think so.”

And there is more: Scientists at the University of Freiburg Medical Center are experimenting with the printing of bones. A special bio-printer should process bone and blood vessel cells into functional tissue. Initial relevant results are expected in five to seven years. However, the production and implantation of bone tissue is anticipated to take longer due to possible transplant rejection. Custom-fit knee joints produced by the 3D printer are now routine at the Orthopedics Center of Dortmund Hospital. These joints have the advantage that 25 percent less bone needs to be removed for the implantation. “As the examples show, there is a wide variety of application areas in which additive manufacturing offers great advantages. Whereas in some areas 3D printing will probably remain a fantasy, in others great progress will be made and it is exciting to be at the center of all this,” say Ralph Ritter, Board Member and COO of OSB AG.

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