“The Traditional Strategy Ends in Failure”

Text: Thomas Masuch

What new tricks do machining companies need to learn in additive manufacturing, and in what areas? The discover3Dprinting seminar series can help them find the answers.

Some years ago, people were talking about whether industrial 3D printing posed a threat to the machining industry. These days, however, more and more metal-processing companies are exploring how they might take advantage of the technology. Additive manufacturing (as industrial 3D printing is also known) continues to establish itself as a supplementary manufacturing technology in metalworking. Having long since expanded beyond dental implants and ultralight aircraft components, AM is now seeing ever-increasing use in automotive parts and plant engineering.

“That said, this technology doesn’t present a risk to the traditional names in machining, nor will it for the foreseeable future,” points out Kristian Arntz, managing director of the Aachen Center for Additive Manufacturing (ACAM). “Around 90-95% of metal components will still be machined going forward simply because it's difficult to 3D-print them with the necessary efficiency.” Meanwhile, Arntz does advise every company involved in metal production to take a look at AM.

This is part of the reason why he and his colleagues at ACAM have begun organizing the discover3Dprinting seminar series in cooperation with exhibition organizer Mesago Messe Frankfurt. After debuting at formnext 2017, these seminars are to branch out to other exhibitions this year with subjects tailored to the target groups of each event. The series will then finish out 2018 at formnext in Frankfurt on 13-16 November.

The discover3Dprinting seminars are designed to help companies get started in additive manufacturing. Rather than add further fuel to the hype surrounding this technology, Arntz and his colleagues want to use them as an opportunity to properly clarify where and when it should be applied. ACAM’s specialists thus also make sure to present examples of “where the use of additive manufacturing hasn’t worked out” along with all the positive potential it presents. Elsewhere at formnext 2018, the User Case Area (hosted by the AM workgroup of German industry association VDMA e.V.) will demonstrate more successful applications in a wide variety of sectors.

A common mistake

As an expert in industrial 3D printing, Kristian Arntz focuses in particular on introducing small and midsize manufacturing companies to AM technology and giving them a realistic look at their possibilities. “We often see people making the usual mistakes, especially at companies involved in machining,” he reports. At trade fairs and other events, those responsible for making investment decisions frequently try to find a machine that meets the exact needs of the parts they are currently producing. “In quite a few cases, this strategy ends in failure in additive manufacturing,” says Arntz, who adds that people often forget that AM only starts paying off once you adapt and optimize the components in question.

Even though contract manufacturers cannot always influence component designs directly, it can make sense to explore additive manufacturing in this area, as well. One of the steps Arntz recommends involves “careful analysis of one's own range of parts” to identify those that lend themselves to 3D printing. Ultimately, every metalworking company should make a conscious decision either to get started with AM or limit its focus to conventional technologies. The latter is also an option according to Arntz – as long as it can be justified in business terms. “That's why you need a certain amount of knowledge of additive technologies,” he asserts.

Those who do opt for AM should view it as a long-term investment. Above all, making efficient use of additive manufacturing requires a great deal of expertise. Before formally adopting the technology at one's own company (particularly in metalworking), Arntz says it's often a good idea to collaborate with external partners. These are easy to find at the international formnext exhibition, which brings the world's leading manufacturers in industrial 3D printing together with an array of service providers all along the corresponding process chain.

Further business potential in finishing

When it comes to finishing 3D-printed metal components, Arntz sees considerable business potential for contract manufacturers with an affinity for AM. “This market is witnessing tremendous growth, but it's another that requires a high level of knowledge,” he says. Arntz goes on to cite the nature of 3D-printed parts as the reason why they often feature irregular geometries and sometimes need to be measured again (due to warping) before being milled. This in turn makes such components difficult to machine and finish, for example.

The ideal approach would thus involve the last processors in the chain from the very beginning of the design process. Since doing so is quite time-consuming, the innovative AM sector has already developed numerous other solutions – from matrix clamping systems to clamping forms made of 3D-printed plastic. “In spite of all these innovations, however, finishing is still very complicated due to the lack of universal solutions,” Arntz says. Sounds like there are still some good business opportunities out there for the industry's inventors...

Further Information: