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On the way to industrialization Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, has the potential to significantly change the way manufacturing is done in industry: The increasing industrialization of additive manufacturing is altering the manner in which industrial processes are being carried out. More and more companies are already experimenting with 3D printing. Now, Oerlikon is also entering the AM business. Florian Mauerer, Head of the Business Unit ‘Additive Manufacturing’, provides some insights.


»There is hardly a technology at the moment which offers more potential for growth.«

Florian Mauerer Mr Mauerer, everyone is talking about additive manufacturing. What’s behind it?
Additive manufacturing is a process for the fabrication of three-dimensional workpieces. It’s also often referred to as 3D printing. Up until now, it was customary to fabricate workpieces out of one solid block by removing material through milling, drilling or grinding. Additive manufacturing, however, builds up a workpiece layer by layer. This gives rise to entirely new possibilities.

But why is AM technology the buzzword just now?
After all, 3D printing has been around for quite a while. That’s right. Additive manufacturing has been around for a long time, but the technology has enjoyed some considerable successes just recently and is making great strides forwards. Previously, it was primarily used for processing plastic, which is well-suited for prototypes, but has not really become established for use in industrial end products. Today’s methods can also process metals, which means we are on the threshold of an important step: the industrialization of additive manufacturing. This is the reason the big companies are now getting on board. Metallic 3D printing is reaching a certain maturity level at the moment and this makes it interesting for industrial applications.

Why is Oerlikon getting involved now as well?
The great potential we see for additive manufacturing lies in the area of industrial fabrication. The manufacture and processing of key industrial components is part of our company’s DNA. As a technology partner, we are already serving leading industrial enterprises in the area of modern materials and coating technologies. That means we are already present today in two of the three most important work steps: our two brands, Oerlikon Balzers and Oerlikon Metco are leaders with their coating technologies for the final processing of components. And what’s more, Oerlikon Metco is also a specialist in working with metal-based materials. In addition, we have a wealth of know-how to draw on concerning process technology for the manufacture of key industrial components. Our aim is to build on these unique areas of expertise and to be active at the very forefront in shaping the industrialization of additive manufacturing. We are presently rapidly expanding our know-how and capacities in this area and are able to make them available to our customers.

Is the market actually ready for this?
I would say: The market is more than ready. There is hardly a technology at the moment which offers more potential for growth. The aero industry, as a driving force for highly complex and safety-critical manufacturing, is currently repositioning itself for the future. The figures of the ‘Expert Commission for Research and Innovation’ of the German Federal Government confirm this development, for example. While the worldwide revenue for additive manufacturing processes (3D printers, materials, accessories, software, services) was 3.07 billion US dollars in 2013, it will already reach a volume of 7.31 billion in 2016. And by 2020, it will even grow to 21.2 billion dollars – a three-fold increase in only eight years! A technological revolution has begun here and we want to be at its forefront.

Florian Mauerer You want to open the way to additive manufacturing for your customers. What is the advantage for customers as compared to conventional manufacturing?
To put it simply: Additive manufacturing makes new and more complex products possible, and does so more inexpensively and faster than with conventional production processes. For one thing, with additive manufacturing, mass-produced items can be customized (I’m thinking of medical technology, for example), but it is also possible to create products that, with conventional means, have been either impossible or very difficult to fabricate up until now. The increasing industrialization of additive manufacturing will not only promote further innovative advances, it will also alter the manner in which industrial processes and manufacturing are carried out. The AM processes give you more latitude in terms of design and shape. While the slogan yesterday was: “Design for Manufacturing,” today, thanks to AM, we can say: “Design for Function.” This is what makes additive manufacturing so revolutionary.

When does additive manufacturing make sense?
There are many areas. A classic example is the area of one-off parts or spare parts. If these are produced by means of additive manufacturing, repair times can be shortened and resource intensive warehousing can be avoided.
But we are already one step further, because the technology is increasingly becoming established in the manufacturing industry where it complements conventional fabrication processes. Individualized one-off parts and small series can be produced this way more promptly and more locally for the customer. Instead of producing centrally and sending things halfway around the world in containers or by air freight, the future will see us simply sending the data to the printer which then accurately prints out the needed part in a short time right on site. And if an apparatus with the desired specifications is not yet available at the moment, then it, too, will be printed in the foreseeable future! Another, significant advantage is also that industrial components can be manufactured quickly and in an uncomplicated manner in new and complex forms that previously were only possible with great effort and expense – even, in fact, using new materials that were previously not possible. Ultimately, this will further improve the performance of products and reduce the costs. And, by the way, these are not just visions of the future. Parts printed in series are already in common use in aircraft, for example in jet engines or control mechanisms.

You have mentioned the costs several times now. How can these be reduced through the use of additive manufacturing?
There will be several possibilities here. A significant difference between additive manufacturing and previous manufacturing processes is that material is not removed or cut off, but instead added layer by layer exactly where it is needed. This saves material, which makes the production more sustainable, and, of course, for expensive metal-based materials, this has a noticeable effect on the costs.
But there will also be savings in the logistics chain and warehousing when spare parts are only produced on site when needed. However, to get that far, the productivity of additive manufacturing must still be improved greatly, meaning the costs must go down. This will be achieved through more efficient machinery, automated processes, reduced material costs and new procedures. Today, a good deal still takes place manually in this process.

What is additive manufacturing being used for already today and what will the future look like?
The core application areas on which we are concentrating have to do with the manufacture of key components for the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors as well as for customers in the area of toolmaking and in industrial production. We are already working on customer projects in all of these areas. Moreover, we are also using additive manufacturing to fabricate our own products – in the area of thermal spray equipment, and for special components for transmission solutions and textile systems. Although these projects are still in the research and development phase, we will also pass this knowledge on to our customers.

Florian MauererWhat are you working on right now?
In order to move the industrialization forwards, it is especially important to increase the productivity of the process and expand the range of materials. These are our main topics. As a technology partner for key components, we are working on developing service centres where we can offer our customers access to the production of components by means of additive manufacturing. We are also working on improving the process technology and the workflows. Our materials specialists are also engaged in further expanding our portfolio of materials for this area.

Are your customers already able to work with the AM process?
Yes, we are already working on the development of small series with various different customers. And, because we are going to expand our capacities for printing, we will soon be able to offer our customers manufacturing of 3D products globally as a service.

Mr Mauerer, thank you for the interview

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