»We Aren’t Even Scratching the Surface of the Current Possibilities«

Interview: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Rosswag GmbH ; Leichtbau BW — 2019/09/09

Additive manufacturing has been such a success in the aerospace sector because it makes weight reductions possible that can’t be achieved with conventional technologies. But how are other industries approaching lightweight designs? We recently spoke with Dr. Wolfgang Seeliger, director of the Leichtbau BW network, about the current developments in this field.

Dr. Seeliger, you’re in charge of one of the world’s biggest networks for lightweight construction. What role does additive manufacturing play for the companies involved?

SEELIGER: AM continues to gain importance in lightweight construction, and the range of applications is always growing, as well. We can now produce bionic structures that weren’t even conceivable before. By integrating functions and components, it’s also possible to eliminate connecting elements and reduce both weight and costs as a result. Another thing that keeps costs down is building conduits for gas or liquid into components, which simplifies the process, as well. On the whole, AM leads to improved material and cost efficiency because material is only used where necessary. Lightweight construction isn’t just about material, however: Since functional integration is one of the fundamental principles, our field is mainly about engineering – that is, how can we design components to provide a certain function while using resources as efficiently as possible?

 

Could you give us some specific examples?

SEELIGER: One of the companies in our network, Jomatik GmbH, is already turning a profit manufacturing robotic grippers with additive methods. Rosswag, an open-die forging company that usually produces things like heavy turbine mounts, has now established Rosswag Engineering – a dedicated AM division that’s 3D-printing blade rings in cooperation with MAN. Generally speaking, it’s safe to say that the Additive majority of the companies in our network are exploring AM, and half of them have an in-house 3D printer. In a lot of cases, however, they’re still doing developmental work. Our impression is that the main challenge lies in finding new uses for 3D printing and taking advantage of the technology where it makes sense.

Considering how well lightweight construction and additive manufacturing seem to dovetail, you’d think there would be more corresponding applications …

SEELIGER: Definitely; we aren’t even scratching the surface of the current possibilities. In every - day settings, we’re seeing plenty of reasons why this is the case. Many engineers aren’t yet thinking and designing components with an eye toward AM. It’s also often the case that supplier companies don’t have engineers with corresponding training – or if they do have such expertise, customers still want conventional designs.

 

What would you recommend to break out of these patterns?

SEELIGER: On the one hand, there are a great deal of training opportunities available these days, and AM is often part of the technical schooling offered at universities. On the other, we need more process innovation. The developments that OEMs come up with are usually confidential, and suppliers are often only involved after a design is already complete. We need to think and act in a more overarching way, but the changes this would require can only be made at the executive level.

Network support

How does your network support the development of additive manufacturing?

SEELIGER: The topic of 3D printing first arose within our network around four years ago. Since 2015, we’ve been organizing regular network events like our consultation gatherings, as well as conferences with our industry partners. These gatherings focus on subjects like process safety, reproducibility, and how dependent users are on their equipment and materials. We’ve also published studies that explore the strategic and business-related challenges and perspectives involved in the industrial use of AM.

 

New technologies like additive manufacturing are met with enthusiasm at some companies, while others are more skeptical. Are there differences here between smaller and larger organizations, for example?

SEELIGER: In our experience, firm size doesn’t really play a role. It’s more a question of the culture and the people in charge at a given company, which is where you see some stark differences. I believe the companies that prove best at overcoming the economic challenges they face in the future will be those that develop the necessary technological versatility in good time rather than simply reacting to their customers’ specifications.

 

Dr. Seeliger, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

More about Leichtbau BW GmbH:

With 2,200 companies – including 1,100 from BadenWürttemberg and 500 from outside of Germany – and more than 270 research institutions, Leichtbau BW is likely the world’s largest network in lightweight construction. This state agency supports the marketing of Baden-Württemberg’s expertise in lightweight designs and cultivates the state’s potential for innovation in line with its motto, »Less Is More«. At Formnext 2019, Leichtbau BW’s shared booth will feature nine companies from its network: INPECA GmbH | BÖLLINGER GROUP, BURGMAIER AM, CADFEM GmbH, fabrikado GmbH, MIMplus Technologies GmbH & Co. KG, Q.big 3D, Rosswag GmbH, Schübel GmbH, and Visiotech GmbH.

 

Leichtbau BW at Formnext 2019

Hall 12.0, stand D95

 

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