Everyone is talking about 3D printing, additive manufacturing (AM), and generative multi-layer construction technologies. Nevertheless, this is a long way from meaning the classic machine tool is going to be sent away. EMO Hannover 2017 will be showcasing an array of production technology – including alternative processes.
Carl Fruth has long since achieved his goal of “transferring competences in the field of multi-layer technologies into product manufacturing,” and during a Technology Day featuring an in-house exhibition at FIT AG (Fruth Innovative Technologies) in Lupburg, Germany, in addition to inaugurating an office building, FIT also opened the first additive factory.
The “FIT factory is even on an international comparison unique in terms of manufacturing capacity and automation technology, and is intended to serve as a template for further additive manufacturing facilities of the FIT Group,” says Carl Fruth, founder and managing board chairman at FIT. Fruth is a pioneer of AM, who 10 years ago was certain the future multi-layer construction technology would be the norm in everyday production operations and the sale of milling machines or injection molding machines would inexorably decline.
However, we are still a long way off from the day where the traditional machine tool is numbered, confirmed by the innovations that will be highlighted by exhibitors at EMO Hannover 2017. One of the impediments to the widespread adoption of additive technology in individualized mass production was described several years go by Fruth as the “lack of production-suited manufacturing lines.”
Yet, this has changed in the meantime.
Fruth states that, “There are a large number of delicate seedlings: many of our customers would like to use additive technologies to manufacture replacements for existing components. But this is possible only in a very few cases. Usually, a new component has to be developed and very often the adjoining components of the system as well. First, many companies are deterred by the outlay involved, and second, of course, you need specialized development competence for this new production technology.”
The country needs new designer engineers
When traditional design guidelines no longer apply, a new generation of design engineers is needed, keen to embrace function-driven thinking.
According to Fruth, AM means that, “in the design phase not only the geometry, but also the material properties and the component costs are essentially specified in full. This complexity necessitates specialized training and experience. Moreover, up to now there is no software tool in existence that provides all the requisite functions. So, firms have to work with different, complex software tools. Very often, information is lost in transitioning from one tool to another. When you need up to eight iterations for developing a component, the substantial outlay involved is obvious.
“The competences required, moreover, are possessed not by a single design engineer, but only by a team. In traditional companies, the competences concerned are divided up among different departments – a situation exacerbated by squabbles about prerogatives and uncertainty. Innovative companies, however, also see this as an opportunity: ‘We support our customers in this process, and train them component by component to achieve maximized performance in AM design. That’s why we also call these products ADM – Additive Design and Manufacturing.’”
When talk turns to additive manufacturing in an automated process chain – something he used to refer to as the Achilles heel – Fruth becomes veritably effusive: “This is my own particular hobbyhorse. We don’t have a digital specification of our products. This is why Industry 4.0 hasn’t taken off, and also why automation isn’t working properly either. When everything has to be automated and optimized by hand, then the traditional forms of mass production are – old hat.”
Whether there’s a robot standing at the production line or a human employee turning the product, there are no fundamentally new approaches involved.
“For as long as a drawing and thick ring binders of text are required for specifying a product, Industry 4.0 is never going to get off the ground. In this context, it’s immaterial whether there’s a PDF file for the specification involved – we’re talking here about machine-readable specifications and their fully automated implementation.”
Some former weak points, by contrast, he adds, like the reproducibility of the processes, quality assurance in mass production, or dependable simulation methods, have been almost eliminated: “Everyone involved has understood the problem, and is working purposefully to solve it.”
More technologies are sharing the market
The inevitable question of whether the conventional machine tool will soon be out of a job receives a differentiated answer from the AM expert.
“Components are manufactured in a process chain. That’s true today and will still be true tomorrow. Additively manufactured components, as is the case with other production technologies, too, require quality-testing: it’s immaterial in this context whether this means each individual component or every 50th one of identical components. So, I don’t think existing technologies are going to be replaced.”
CNC-driven processes, he adds, are all very flexible in use, and all have a market of their own. The question is rather, what share can each technology have of the cake as a whole? The slice for the various additive production technologies is currently so small that it can only increase. Fruth, however, also believes “that the cake as a whole for CNC processes is becoming larger, at the expense of tool-linked production technologies and other highly personnel-intensive processes. We’re looking here at a combination of different CNC technologies.”
At the upcoming EMO Hannover 2017, Fruth expects “to find the very latest CNC-based production technologies, plus innovative potential products in this category. A large number of equipment manufacturers for additive processes and material producers will be exhibiting at the EMO Hannover. For us as users of this equipment, this adds a special interest to the fair.”
Harmonized software solutions for AM
A new solution for AM has recently been premiered by Siemens PLM Software. It consists of an integrated software package for design, simulation, digital manufacturing, plus data and process management. This enables a generative design to be created automatically, on the basis of new functions for optimized topologies. This frequently results in organic shapes that a design engineer would be highly unlikely to think of himself, and that would be very complicated or even impossible to manufacture using conventional production methods. Possible user target groups include medical technology, the automotive industry, and the aviation sector.
The solution and its possible applications are explained by Peter Scheller, marketing director at Siemens PLM Software: “What’s special about it is that this is a consistently harmonized platform. On the basis of our convergent modelling technology, we incorporate within our NX software for integrated CAD all the relevant product development steps for 3D printing, from scanning to the actual printing. In the field of 3D printing, there are already a whole lot of individual solutions in various niches, either from printer manufacturers or other vendors. The important step we’re now taking is the integration of all process steps into a platform with a central user interface, on which both the geometry and the print path generation are stored in a secure data format.”
In addition, within the framework of this strategy, Siemens PLM Software has unveiled plans for a new online collaboration platform providing an option for worldwide cooperation in the manufacturing sector. The declared aim is to render on-demand product designs and 3D printing production operations more easily accessible to a global manufacturing industry.
“In mass production environments,” Scheller says, “3D printing has not yet arrived completely: it originated in prototyping, and so far has been predominantly used for this purpose. But we’re approaching a threshold here: the process is emerging from this niche; many companies are currently thinking about using it for mass production or have already introduced it for this purpose.”
When you think about an additive production process on an industrial scale, “from our point of view a process-reliable data format is extremely important, as a basis for enabling components to be dependably manufactured again and again in the same quality. So far there hadn’t been a platform of this kind, which is why we’re now providing one for our customers,” Scheller notes. “For industrial production operations, in particular, it is very important to have an exhaustive description of your components on file in digital form. This is essential for accessing this digital twin in the event of queries or cases of damage and investigating the relevant causes.”
Scheller sums up his expectations for the EMO Hannover 2017 as follows: “Siemens will continue to invest in innovations, and to work together with technology partners in order to develop new solutions designed to progress the efficacy of additive manufacturing and drive 3D printing forward still further. That’s why we’re looking forward to fruitful meetings at the EMO Hannover 2017 and plenty of mutual feedback with customers and associates. The fair is a superlative platform for learning more about current challenges and customers’ wishes.”
Additive manufacturing at the EMO Hannover 2017
Opportunities and perspectives for additive manufacturing
September 20, 2017, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Hannover Convention Center, Hall 3A
Host: Additive Manufacturing Working Group in the VDMA
International Conference on Additive Manufacturing
September 21, 2017, 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Hannover Convention Center, Munich Hall
Host: Cecimo (European Association of Machine Tool Industries)