Additive Manufacturing (AM) on its way to becoming the industrial standard.


Just in time: Rapid.Tech 2011.

This article could also be entitled "ready for take off". That is not only because there was an expert forum on "air travel" at this year's Rapid.Tech from 24-25 May in Erfurt for the first time but rather because of the rapid progress of the generative manufacturing processes towards their wide industrial application. In the next five years in many areas, experts are expecting a far-reaching change in production. Many are already talking about an impending new industrial revolution.

Faster development and manufacturing, maximum freedom in application

Generative manufacturing is already shortening the development time and the manufacturing time for prototypes, products and tools. What makes this interesting for users is that, alongside these time savings, there are also hardly any more existing limitations in terms of geometric design. At the two-day user conference, very different aspects of and opportunities arising from AM were discussed. Material properties, processes and the requirements connected with these as well as problems were discussed intensively. But legal questions linked to the new processes were also highlighted: what about, for example, traceability and liability in the case of products manufactured using CAD/CAM processes? Michael Brandl and Matthias Berge from the Ilmenau technical university suggested a solution which makes use of the generative structural process and links identifications with the component at its origin. A topic which was discussed often was difficulties related to quality assurance. One particular solution in the case of laser sintering is the use of thermal imaging cameras. Andreas Wegner and Professor Dr. Gerd Witt (University of Duisburg-Essen) presented an approach with which inhomogeneous temperature distributions in the installation space are identified with cameras in order to be able to ultimately use these results for the process preparation.

Air travel benefits from optimised materials and properties

The application possibilities of AM in air travel was a focus at the expert forum of the same name. The further development of additive manufacturing processes to real batch processes is an important prerequisite for use in this field. This includes machine and material developments as well as planning-related forward thinking. In terms of tools, significant property improvements are ascertainable both for metals and for synthetic materials. Machine manufacturers are also making huge efforts in order to further improve the reliability and the reproducibility.
The case study reports were pursued with a great deal of attentiveness. For example, Markus Oeding highlights the advantages of the generative manufacturing processes in the example of FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Generative processes enable a freedom of design which has been unknown before now as well as a simultaneous reduction of risks. Thanks to the downstream processing processes during manufacturing, components with the most varied of surfaces can be produced for aeroplane manufacturers, component manufacturers, VIP suppliers, maintenance companies or airlines according to the customers wishes.
One thing in particular which required discussion was, amongst other topics, certification. It remains to be clarified how the certification can be supported and how the market will change as a result. It is expected that product and process quality as a whole will be improved.
Dr. Eric Klemp from the University of Paderborn, who is the forum's programme organiser, was very excited to have had "... a successful first air travel forum with a good number of attendees. From the idea right up to the product, the whole range was revealed to the audience from the origin of the product to its application."

Cost reductions and time savings in dental and orthodontic treatments

Something else which is unbridled is the progress in the application of CAD/CAM processes in dental technology: alongside the "normal" artificial teeth such as crowns and bridges, dental implants and orthodontic applications are playing an increasing role.
The lectures at the third expert forum "CAD/CAM and rapid prototyping in dental technology" highlighted, alongside the laser melting technique which is already well-known in this industry, successful examples of further technologies, such as 3D printing for moulding processes and the direct manufacture of artificial teeth in biocompatible compositions. New tools, processes and the presentation of practical examples characterised the forum. The lectures given by Hans Raapke (Dental Inside) and Peter Neumeier (Praxis 32 Schöne Zähne [Practice 32 beautiful teeth]) on dental implants were very impressive thanks to the patient cases presented and these demonstrated the use of new technologies not just in a theoretical way but also attested the practical success for patients and dentists with documented positive results.
"Whoever offers the most intelligent connection between measurement, planning and manufacturing technology will have the edge in the future," stressed Antonius Köster, the initiator of the expert forum. In doing so, the proximity of qualified advice to the patient will have an equally high significance as the costs for the artificial teeth. These will be lower thanks to new materials and facilities. There is still a great need for communication at the interfaces between doctors, laboratories and manufacturing centres. However, in the exchange with and advising by health insurance companies there is still lots of potential. This is because a well coordinated treatment plan between the dentist and the laboratory can save the patient a lot of treatment time and can lead to better care which can be cheaper than any artificial teeth from abroad.
The dental technology expert forum showed an industry going through a period of change which is putting the newest technologies to good use. Generative processes and the progress being made in CAD/CAM and scanning technology will change dentistry permanently. Rapid.Tech 2011 made this strikingly clear.

AM holds enormous efficiency potential for medical technology

The one-day expert forum "medical technology", which was being held for the second time, was completely impacted by the use of market-ready rapid manufacturing machines for the direct manufacture of implants and prosthetics.
Patrick Ohldin (Arcam AB) picked up on the most important economic aspect in this respect. In his lecture, he demonstrated that, because of its speed and efficiency, AM is already used by many manufacturers very productively, particularly those manufactures who produce implants. The manufacture of prosthetics with integrated trabecula structures saves the coating, which takes a great deal of time. Furthermore, the trabecula structures can be optimised with AM and thus in-growth into the bones can be encouraged.
Alongside ethical issues and the implementation of legal provisions for the manufacture of medical products, service providers and manufacturers will, in the future, also be very occupied with certification and with medical-technical standards. Yet the "line of approach" is clear: the enormous potential for increasing productivity with rapid manufacturing machines as well as the optimal exploitation of this technology will lead to the faster and faster manufacture of cost-effective, weight-optimised and individual implants. The participants of the medical-technical expert forum received new, exciting glances of solutions which have already been practically and successfully implemented and are, thanks to the reports from research, very well-prepared for the future development.

Use new freedoms in construction in the best possible way

Central questions from the design engineer day dealt with instructions, tips and experiences from practice. The contributions focussed on the constructive implementation of design and ergonomic requirements and case studies of the implementation of rapid manufacturing processes from constructive points of view.
Prof. Peter Raab from the Coburg University of Applied Sciences/Coburg design lab presented very exciting new approaches which are interesting for all branches and are target-oriented. In his lecture "Generative processes and perspectives for a convergence", he focussed on fundamental revolutions in manufacturing, contingent on interactive communication in Web 2.0 and the opportunities of generative processes. He indicated that an industry and production disciplinary trade according to current understanding would begin to disappear more and more. It will be replaced by recognisable, innovative convergences in approaches both in product and production conception and in consumer integration. With the potential arising from rapid product development and rapid manufacturing, the participants were operating in new growth industries. The application of RP technologies to directly individualised production opens up completely new liberties to design engineers. Professor Dr. Thomas Seul (Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences), co-moderator of the design engineer day, emphasises the potential therein: "these freedoms, together with the technical opportunities of additive manufacturing processes in the area of rapid manufacturing, are a wonderful addition to the manufacture of new batch products."

The next Rapid.Tech will be held on 8 and 9 May 2012.