Application possibilities for additive manufacturing

In industrial manufacturing addi­ti­ve processes are becoming more important. Those who establish technological expertise at an early stage clearly have an advantage. The MANN+HUMMEL pro­to­typ­ing cen­ter in Ludwigs­burg is well prepared in this respect.

It sounds easy but is almost unbelievable: a design engineer creates a data record for a component in a CAD program and sends it to a 3D printer. In the printer, a laser beam melts a metallic or plastic-based powder on a construction platform in accordance with the CAD data and joins it together. As if by magic the workpiece grows layer for layer from the bed of powder. Laser metal fusion or selective laser sintering are common descriptions of the so-called powder bed based processes which are also increasingly gaining in importance in industrial production. They enable the quick and economic manufacture of prototypes, testing or sample parts with a batch size of one as no tools are required. Even small adjustments to the program are enough to significantly change the component. But that is not all: the process also allows the realization of component geometries which are not even possible with conventional manufacturing methods.

Years of experience

Additive manufacturing processes have already been in use at the MANN+HUMMEL Prototyping Center in Ludwigsburg (PCLB) since 1999. The PCLB is defined as a Center of Competence for Rapid Prototyping and is a global partner for questions concerning 3D printing in the company. The experts at the PCLB are setting up an information platform including a knowledge database and are working with concrete application possibilities for additive processes. Using materials which are close to reality such as polyamide powder PA12, feasibility studies are conducted at the PCLB for the production of representative samples, installation and functional prototypes. The production of filter housing parts in small batches is also conceivable.

Learning to think in a new way

A crucial challenge in the field of additive manufacturing is the requirement early on in the design and construction stages to consider new components from a printing point of view. This is because in contrast to conventional production methods there are almost no shape restrictions with 3D printing. Highly complex structures which make components lighter, smaller and more stable are also possible. However, this new way of thinking has to be learned, and conventional CAD programs are often geared to conventional production methods. These programs do not consider free-form surfaces. The experts at the MANN+HUMMEL PCLB are working to make this rethinking process a success so that prototypes and small batches can be successfully produced using additive manufacturing methods. Even though series with higher volumes will continue to be produced using conventional technology, the advantages with regard to time, lower costs and functionality can be considerable in the stages before series production where additive manufacturing processes are possible.