»Every Production Company Should Take a Look at Additive Manufacturing«
Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Thomas Klerx, Thomas Masuch
Sascha F. Wenzler, Head of Division for formnext at event organizer Mesago Messe Frankfurt GmbH, talks about the latest developments in AM.
Mr. Wenzler, 2017 already marks the third year in which you’ll be holding formnext. How have the conference and exhibition evolved, and what can we look forward to this year?
Wenzler: At formnext 2017, we’re planning to build on the remarkable success we achieved in our first two years. We've grown significantly each year since debuting in 2015. This year, we're once again on track to easily outpace the strong numbers we turned in last year in terms of exhibitors, visitors, and overall space. All this shows that formnext has evolved into the leading trade fair for modern and intelligent industrial manufacturing. The exhibitors we’ve got on board represent the global elite in additive production. You also won’t find the same atmosphere of innovation anywhere else, which is a big reason why highly qualified experts come to formnext from all over the world.
Which companies and industries have an interest in additive manufacturing and intelligent industrial production in general?
Wenzler: Basically, whether they build tools or cars or some other product, every industrial manufacturing company should take a look at AM. The exciting part is that additive manufacturing – or industrial 3D printing, as it's often called – covers such a diverse range of application areas. AM is already being used to create plenty of products, from sneakers to rocket engines. Meanwhile, the potential uses are only going to keep expanding. After all, industrial 3D printing involves not just end products, but components, spare parts, and other means of production, as well.
Additive manufacturing is still a young and vibrant industry. In what direction are things trending right now?
Wenzler: We’re always witnessing new developments through our exhibitors at formnext, such as in the automotive and aerospace sectors. At the same time, medical technology, consumer goods, tool- and form-making, mechanical engineering, and other fields are also teeming with innovations. Among the factors driving them are the ongoing advancements in 3D printing systems. Here, we’re seeing both constant improvements in existing processes and the emergence of new technologies, including from Desktop Metal, HP, XJET...
...which are trying to make 3D-printed products even more cost-effective?
Wenzler: Right. Many new developments are indeed designed to make systems and processes increasingly efficient overall, which in turn makes it possible to further reduce the cost of additive production. As a result, components manufactured using additive techniques are becoming more competitive in additional application areas. Other important advancements are working toward systems that are capable of creating more diverse and complex products. Materials are a highly dynamic area at the moment, for example, and developments there have a significant amount of influence.
When companies decide to start using this intriguing technology in-house, what do they need to keep in mind? What's the key to success?
Wenzler: Since additive manufacturing presents so many opportunities, the first step is to learn as much as you can. formnext offers an excellent overview of both the leading manufacturers and the many young, highly innovative companies and service providers out there. Of course, finding the right solution for the size of your company and its products is also a primary concern. Some companies have employees who are fascinated by 3D printing, which eventually turns into a pet project that reveals how much more potential the technology has in store. The most important thing is that awareness of this potential is growing in the minds of more design engineers and decision-makers.
Is additive manufacturing also suited to mass production?
Wenzler: For conventional mass production in the automotive industry, which involves metal components in the hundreds of thousands (or even millions), AM is much too resource-intensive. In some applications, however – glasses frames or aircraft parts, for example – we're already seeing batch sizes of several thousand units. As the efficiency of AM machines and the processes involved continues to increase, these numbers are sure to keep rising. In my view, though, the evolution of AM isn’t necessarily about producing lots of identical parts; that doesn’t tap into the full potential of the technology. It's much more about using AM to introduce more intelligent processes in the right areas of production. I'm talking about the entire process chain in industrial manufacturing, from the initial idea to the finished product; from designs, materials, hardware, and software to post-processing and quality assurance. We're constantly incorporating corresponding solutions into our formnext portfolio, and you’ll see quite a few of them at this year's event.