»The key is mastering the process chain«

Interview: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Trumpf - 27/05/2018

Additive manufacturing has by now become an important business sector for global corporations like Trumpf, and its strong growth trend shows no signs of diminishing. The laser manufacturer, with its head office in Ditzingen in southern Germany, wants to secure revenue of 500 million euros in the area of additive manufacturing alone in the next few years. In an interview with formnext magazine, Dr.-Ing. E.h. Peter Leibinger, Chief Technology Officer at Trumpf, speaks about the company’s plans for the future and the current challenges facing the industry.

Mr. Leibinger, during your press event at formnext 2017, you described additive manufacturing (AM) as an ambivalent topic. Can you explain in two sentences what you mean by this?

LEIBINGER: On one hand, the additive manufacturing sector is developing in the direction of series production, with customers from industries such as the dental and aerospace industries buying machines to produce their components. On the other hand, there is a great deal of hype around the topic and it is sometimes hard to tell what is hype and what is real.


Trumpf has been focusing on additive manufacturing technology for quite a while now …

LEIBINGER: Yes, we have been working on this technology since the mid-1990s and launched the first powder-bed-based machine on the market in 2003. We were pioneers in this area and the market was not quite ready. For this reason, we stopped selling this machine after three years and switched our attention to laser deposition welding using nozzles. In hindsight, this was a mistake because the market for robust laser metal fusion (LMF) machines for industrial production has grown considerably in recent years.

"We are laser manufacturers, and we are mechanical engineers. That’s why we have a very detailed understanding of our customers’ requirements."

revenue of 500 million euros in the area of AM

Trumpf is one of the leading machine manufacturers on the market today. Can you tell me about current developments and the company’s goals?

LEIBINGER: Our AM systems are selling well: We put more than 100 machines on the market in 2017. Our attendance at formnext undoubtedly contributed to this. We want to secure a revenue of 500 million euros in the area of additive manufacturing in the next five to seven years. At the moment, we have more than 200 employees working in this area and we expect to add another 100 by the end of 2018. But we also know that we need to remain realistic and that success requires patience.

 

Unlike most other companies in the world of additive manufacturing, Trumpf has a long tradition. Does this give you a competitive advantage?

LEIBINGER: The key to successful industrial 3D printing, of metals in particular, is mastering the process chain. And this is where I see two advantages for Trumpf. First, we are laser manufacturers. And second, we are mechanical engineers. We have a very detailed understanding of our customers’ requirements and how our customers work. Thanks to our strong position on the global mechanical engineering market, we also have a powerful international service network. Our customers expect nothing less from us.

Trumpf has chosen to concentrate on two additive technologies: laser metal fusion (LMF) and laser metal deposition (LMD). Why is that?

LEIBINGER: LMF is particularly well suited to manufacturing geometrically complex parts, e.g. parts with internal channels and cavities. LMD offers higher productivity, but the quality of the components produced is slightly lower. It can also be used to produce larger hybrid components. Because we are experts in both technologies, we can cover a wide range of requirements and offer our customers the most suitable approach based on their needs.


What is the critical »know-how factor«: the powder, the machine, the process, or the integration?

LEIBINGER: I think that the machine, in conjunction with system integration, is the most important factor.


What challenges do you see associated with the further development of additive manufacturing?

LEIBINGER: There is still no ready-made solution on the market that can handle the additive manufacturing process from the CAD stage through to the fi nished component. The development process can be visualized as an onion. The inner layer, where we are now, contains the production hardware and powder management. The next layer will be system integration.

Mr. Leibinger, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG

Trumpf was founded in 1923 as a series of mechanical workshops, and has since developed into one of the world’s leading companies for machine tools, laser technology, and electronics for industrial applications. With 12,000 employees, the company generated sales of 3,111 million Euros in the 2016/17 fiscal year.

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