The researchers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen have recently been focusing their efforts on Selective Laser Melting (SLM) 3D printing technology, a powder bed-based technique which has been used to process metal in varying sectors. The institute partnered with the Aachen University of Applied Sciences to open the largest SLM facility in the world this summer, and worked with green lasers in an effort to make the SLM process more suitable for 3D printing copper components.
This focus on SLM and other metal 3D printing processes continues, as Fraunhofer ILT launched its next-generation additive manufacturing (AM) focus project, futureAM, earlier this month with five project partners – Fraunhofer IWS (Institute for Material and Beam Technology), IWU (Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology), IGD (Institute for Computer Graphics Research), IFAM (Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials), and the LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH of the Hamburg University of Technology.
The project partners are working together to set up prerequisites over the next three years for important metal 3D printing advances. The main goals of the futureAM focus project are to eliminate metal AM size limitations through the use of new plant design concepts, and increase the adoption of additive manufacturing for making metal components, which will also help lower manufacturing costs.
Professor Johannes Henrich Schleifenbaum, Coordinator of futureAM and Director of Additive Manufacturing and Functional Layers at Fraunhofer ILT, said, “The research platform will develop new digital process chains, scalable and robust AM processes, systems engineering and automation, as well as expand the range of processable and affordable materials.”
Four fields of activity have been defined by the research project partners to use in order to, as Fraunhofer ILT puts it, “secure Germany’s technological edge.” The first is Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains, followed by Scalable and Robust AM Processes, then Materials, and finally System Technology and Automation. The researchers from each of the six institutions will work together in an interdisciplinary fashion to show how practical AM technology can be for manufacturing components, by integrating all the manufacturing steps in the process chain – from design and SLM printing to using laser metal deposition technology to set up support structures and post-processing techniques.
Fraunhofer ILT is the project coordinator, and will take pains to ensure robust, scalable additive manufacturing processes, while Fraunhofer IGD and LZN Laser Zentrum Nord are responsible for digital process chains and Industry 4.0. Fraunhofer IWS and Fraunhofer IFAM will reinforce a structure fabricated out of a second high-strength material, and Fraunhofer IWU will take care of system technology and automation for post-processing.
Metal additive manufacturing has been at the forefront of the industry for a while now, and particularly in Germany, many companies, institutes, and universities have been focusing on this particular sector for several years. While multiple processes, materials, and plants for the value chain have already been developed, the country can only hang on to its edge, and continue to grow in its adoption of metal AM, if, according to Fraunhofer ILT, “its own research institutions share their knowledge base in the field of metal AM and generate significant technological leaps.”
We’ve seen many other 3D printing consortiums that work together towards a common solution, and futureAM is similar, with its six partner institutes bonded by their years of metal additive manufacturing experience.
“It is unknown to many that some companies already use additive manufacturing for series production – for example, for the production of dentures, implants or turbine components. Building on these first pioneering achievements, we are now concerned with implementing and integrating a new generation of metal AM along the entire process chain,” explained Professor Schleifenbaum. “The complete digitization of the process chain, new materials, innovative design options and an accelerated production process by a factor of 10 are the objectives.”
The six futureAM partners work in a Virtual Lab that contains a closed digital map, showing each institute’s equipment and competencies. Each of the institutes’ products and machines are assigned a digital twin, so the actual entities can be optimized for simulation and modeling, such as predictive analysis and error diagnosis. This system offers the research consortium partners “complete digital transparency,” as the autonomous systems it includes are able to virtually support the researchers in their individual locations.
This January, LZN Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH of TUHH will join the Fraunhofer Institute family when it becomes the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technology (IAPT). LZN has experience developing complete process chains for companies in varying industries, which will help the futureAM project succeed in terms of digital transformation.
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