Arburg has, with the release of its Freeformer additive manufacturing machine, become the only manufacturer to cover the entire spectrum from additive manufacturing to injection molding. It was the first plastics manufacturing company in the world to also produce its own 3D printing machine.
The Freeformer was announced for the first time at K 2013 with enough fanfare to merit a dramatic unveiling complete with an acrobat atop the machine; with Arburg beginning to take orders only a year later, it seems all the fanfare was well merited. The Freeformer took about a decade of development, and has a unit for discharge featuring a patented nozzle that opens and closes as often as 100 times per second. In doing so it deposits drops of liquid plastic to build up parts, layer-by-layer.
As of Fakuma 2014 (running October 14-18), orders for the German market are now being taken. These orders will be filled by March or April 2015, at which time Arburg will be expanding its availability to the rest of the world. Sales for the rest of Europe will follow those for Germany in April 2015, and after NPE 2015 in March sales will expand to the US, and after Chinaplas 2015 (May) to Asia.
The Freeformer’s uses are myriad, with customization in particular being showcased at Fakuma. Personalized scissors are available at Arburg’s booth, where the Freeformer is paired up with Arburg’s Allrounder 370 E injection molding machine. Visitors can use mobile devices to input their scissors’ parameters, using a personal web page via a code. After a scissor blank has had its handles molded on via the Allrounder, and had an identity code applied via laser, the Freeformer individually applies lettering to each pair of scissors. In about two minutes, the Freeformer applies individualized lettering at a layer height of 0.21 millimeters. The scissor demonstration shows Arburg’s integrated systems and the company’s ability to completely manufacture and personalize products, start to finish. With all this, the visitors get a great keepsake (available for both lefties and righties)!
Arburg expects to sell about 20 Freeformers, on a pilot basis, by the end of 2014, according to the company’s Managing Director of Technology and Engineering, Heinz Gaub. The company expects the UK to be among the markets with the highest growth potential for the Freeformer, along with China and the US.
“With our unique Freeformer, we have set a trend in the industry,” said Gaub. “The plastics world has evidently been waiting for the possibility of additively processing standard granulates.”
Using the Freeformer, especially in tandem with Arburg’s other technologies, plastic parts can be economically manufactured without molds. These one-off parts or small-volume batches are produced using CAD data sent to the Freeformer, which then uses standard, inexpensive granulate to build up the parts on a drop-by-drop process. Final products — not just prototypes or demo samples — can be created in this manner.
The Freefomer is set to add a new dimension to plastics manufacturing — and with its introduction and new availability, Arburg has surely raised the bar to other plastics manufacturers. Let’s hear your thoughts on Arburg’s new machine. Discuss in the Freeformer forum thread on 3DPB.com.