Additive manufacturing (AM) has come of age and has caught on in industry. A key technology, it is being used in an increasing number of projects and sectors. The question is no longer whether AM should be deployed or not, but rather what support this innovative technology needs in order to break through more broadly into the market. This was the spirit in evidence at Rapid.Tech 3D 2022, which took place from 17 to 19 May. AM users, suppliers and service providers, and AM developers from industry and research gathered for the 18th time at the leading German conference and trade fair for 3D printing.
More than 2,500 trade visitors from 18 countries learned about new additive manufacturing products and services at stands hosted by 97 exhibitors from eleven nations. 13 exhibitors came to Thuringia from outside Germany, including companies from the USA, the United Kingdom, Austria and Switzerland. Visitors were delighted with the conference programme, which featured eight groundbreaking keynote addresses and 13 trade forums offering in-depth presentations. Delegate numbers were higher than for the last face-to-face conference in 2019.
The unique character of Erfurt
“The combination of specialist conference, users conference and exhibition gives the Erfurt event a unique character, and this was once again clearly in evidence after the two-year break we were forced to take. Visitors, speakers and exhibitors were happy to finally be able to get together in person again and exchange ideas,” said Professor Gerd Witt of the University of Duisburg-Essen. He and Stratasys manager Michael Eichmann are the joint chairs of the Rapid.Tech 3D advisory board. Michael Eichmann noted that the pandemic had given AM an additional boost: “Supply bottlenecks forced many companies to think outside the box. As a result, they too have discovered the potential of additive manufacturing to make production fast, flexible and sustainable.”
Integrated approach needed
Ways of consolidating the boost AM has experienced were presented by the keynote speakers and discussed by the panel at the specialist conference. One major challenge that must be addressed if AM is to achieve a breakthrough is the 30:70 ratio, as Frank Rethmann from Airbus Helicopters pointed out. Printing accounts for 30 per cent of value creation, while the remaining 70 per cent is generated by upstream and downstream processes. This means that engineers will need to adopt an integrated approach in order to master the closely interconnected additive chain and scale it to series production, he argued. Additive manufacturing is already being used for series production of aircraft components at Airbus Helicopters.
Robust international standards are essential, as Christoph Hauck from Toolcraft emphasised. Working with certified processes not only ensures reproducible product quality and process stability; it also fosters market acceptance and trust. Hauck believes it is worth bearing the burden of certification because AM standards offer great leverage, helping to broaden the adoption of the technology by industry. Toolcraft is one of the eleven companies in the world that are accredited for AM processes under the Nadcap aerospace engineering standard.
Additive manufacturing needs digitalisation, and the faster and simpler the software is, the better. Alexander Oster from Autodesk presented Machine Control Framework, an open-source system that enables different hardware components to be integrated easily into a production-ready SLM system, producing product-quality metal and plastic components instantly – and at a fraction of the usual cost.
AM benefits for development, production and maintenance
Talks by Falk Heilfort from Porsche, Fabian Gafner from Sauber and Klaus Eimann from Procter & Gamble looked at how to harness the benefits of AM in product development, production and maintenance, illustrating the benefits with practical examples. New design opportunities and component integration have allowed Porsche engineers to additively manufacture a high-performance electric drive with significantly reduced assembly costs and production times. The design freedom provided by AM enabled the experts at Sauber to reconstruct and manufacture the gearbox of a 70-year-old Ferrari, assuring it a long lifespan. The consumer products group Procter & Gamble uses hybrid technologies to produce and repair components and tools. This sustainable approach not only saves time and money – it also conserves materials and energy compared with conventional processes.
Clever and creative minds will be pivotal for success
Clever and creative people who collaborate across boundaries will be crucial to the commercial success of disruptive technologies such as AM, said Daniel Büning of the nFrontier innovation studio. The studio’s engineers and artists from a wide range of disciplines are working at the intersection of emerging additive and digital technologies to develop new and sustainable products considerably faster than would be possible with conventional processes.
Bernhard Randerath from the German Emirati Institute presented a very tangible pathway for the sustainable industrialisation of additive manufacturing, in the form of a zero-carbon factory for vehicle interiors. Part of the wide-ranging technological collaboration between Germany and the United Arab Emirates, the plant will custom-produce components for car, railway, ship and aircraft interiors from 2025 – highly efficiently, quickly, flexibly and without the need for tools.
Innovations along the length of the additive chain
The exhibition allowed visitors to see and experience how the approaches and solutions outlined in the keynotes and trade forums are already being put into practice. The brief, application-focused talks at the 3D Printing Conference in the hall, and the stands hosted by 97 companies, universities and research institutes, all provided suggestions and ideas on the use of additive technologies and offered opportunities for collaboration. Exhibitors included renowned firms such as alphacam, AM Solutions, Farsoon Europe, FIT, Fraunhofer, Freemelt, Intamsys, Kaut-Bullinger, Nano Dimension, Oechsler, Stratasys and Trumpf alongside young tech start-ups such as MetShape, 1A Technologies, Genera, Glassomer and Spectroplast. They presented innovations such as an extremely lightweight mobile machine tool with a 3D-printed frame, a compact all-in-one stereolithography system for printing, washing and post-curing without any manual intervention, and a post-processing system that automatically removes support structures in resin-based 3D printing processes. Products and services for almost every sector, from automotive engineering to dentistry, were showcased at the exhibition, which covered the entire value chain, from development, software, materials, machinery, component manufacturing and post-processing through to quality assurance, education and consultancy.
Seventh 3D Pioneers Challenge held in Erfurt
Erfurt once again saw the organisers of the 3D Pioneers Challenge selecting their winners, as the final of the international design and innovation competition for additive manufacturing and advanced technologies was held at Rapid.Tech 3D for the seventh time. The main prize went to a team from ETH Zurich and Inspire AG for their additively developed brake for the Hyperloop high-speed transportation system. Projects were entered in the competition by teams from 27 countries, and the 37 finalists from across the globe exhibited their work in Erfurt.
“The 18th Rapid.Tech 3D has again demonstrated that Erfurt is a key platform where professionals can exchange practical, user-focused ideas on additive manufacturing. We’re delighted with the positive feedback we’ve received after the extended, pandemic-driven absence of in-person events. We would like to thank everyone who helped make the event such a success,” said Michael Kynast, CEO of Messe Erfurt.
The next Rapid.Tech 3D will be held in Erfurt from 9 to 11 May 2023.
Thomas Janics/Managing Director, Dr Matthias Katschnig/Technical Director, Hage3D GmbH, Graz/Austria:
For us, Erfurt and Rapid.Tech 3D mean three things: expertise, friendliness and informality. We’ve known the city and the event for years and this is the third time we’ve exhibited here. You can sense that more and more companies are about to integrate additive manufacturing into their processes or that they’re already working with smaller machines and now need bigger technology for technical plastic components. And that’s exactly what our Austrian machine construction company provides: materials-neutral, large-format printing technology with high production speeds.
David Soldan, Head of AM Solutions – 3D Post-Processing Technology, Untermerzbach/Bavaria:
We’ve come to Rapid.Tech 3D with a newly developed post-processing solution: our new C1 machine automatically removes support structures in resin-based 3D-printing processes. We also exhibited blasting and mass finishing technology that’s tailored to additive manufacturing. There was a lot of interest in the technology we presented. We had excellent, productive discussions, despite the wide range of visitor interests. We welcomed a broad spectrum of guests to our stand, from large corporations to microbusinesses. Participating in the trade show was another step in raising the profile of AM Solutions as a Rösler surface technology brand.
Ralf Fischer, Head of Additive Manufacturing, Karl Späh GmbH & Co. KG, Scheer/Baden-Württemberg:
We are an additive manufacturing service provider, exhibiting for the first time in Erfurt and specialising in the use of multi-jet fusion for PA 12 and polypropylene processing. We really like the feel of the trade fair. There’s no 3D printing tourism. The visitors have a professional interest in the field – they often even bring specific parts with them. Combining the exhibition with the specialist conference adds value. I gave a talk to the Tool, Model and Mould Making Forum and we were able to share a great deal of information and compare experiences.
Gunther Bigl, Managing Director, Formicum 3D Service GmbH, Leipzig/Saxony:
We’re pleased to be able to present our services in person again here in Erfurt. Rapid.Tech 3D is our “home trade fair”, so to speak. It’s where I first learned about 3D printing paper. Back then, it was still black and white, and we launched the first full-colour machine in Germany. We also offer a comprehensive service covering all aspects of the third dimension: hardware and software development, model making and other services. We got excellent the feedback on our offering, and once again, we’re very satisfied with the trade fair.
Albert te Vrügt, Technical Centre Group Director, Spaleck Oberflächentechnik GmbH + Co. KG, Bocholt/North Rhine-Westphalia:
This is the first time our company has exhibited at Rapid.Tech 3D. We presented a new machine for post-processing additively manufactured components. Visitors were very interested; some even brought parts to our stand and asked specific questions about them. There were lots of pupils and students in the hall, too. We took the time to answer their questions: they might be our best customers one day.