Additive Manufacturing Has Both Potential and Challenges

At this year’s International Symposium for Additive Manufacturing, around forty presentations covered the latest research results and industrial developments, as well as the challenges additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing) needs to overcome before it becomes firmly established in industry.  For example, Stefanie Brickwede, the Head of Additive Manufacturing at Deutsche Bahn, presented innovative approaches to additive manufacturing for mobility, especially rail traffic, in her lecture, “We Print to Drive: Mobility goes Additive”. According to Ms. Brickwede, the use of additive processes will result in high savings in the multi-digit million range in warehousing and spare parts procurement.  She underlined that additive manufacturing is of the upmost importance for Deutsche Bahn, especially in the management of spare parts for older trains.

“Tackling the materials and processing challenges”. Under this motto, 300 international experts from research and industry met at the 3rd International Symposium Additive Manufacturing in Dresden, Germany. At this year’s event, around forty presentations covered the latest research results and industrial developments, as well as the challenges additive manufacturing needs to overcome before it becomes firmly established in industrial production and for supply chain applications.

Additive Manufacturing Symposium

Cooperation and Knowledge Exchange

Dresden is one of the leading European research and innovation locations for industrial additive manufacturing applications.  A good example is the AGENT-3D innovation network, led by the Fraunhofer IWS, where more than 120 partners from industries work together to push the technology further.

Most of the speakers emphasized the importance and necessity of cooperation and the open exchange of knowledge to stabilize and improve processes. Deutsche Bahn, for example, founded the “Mobility goes Additive” network. Ingomar Kelbassa, a Department Manager from Siemens, stated that Siemens, like other companies, is working closely with universities, machine builders and end users to make additive manufacturing a long-term success and not just a hype. He also pointed out that on the one hand Siemens is an additive manufacturing end user and on the other hand a holistic automation supplier to the additive manufacturing industry. He clearly stated, that Siemens will not become an additive manufacturing machinery builder, like e.g. GE or Mitsubishi are today.

Materials and Processing Challenges of Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing

The call for a greater variety of raw materials was very strong, especially regarding metal powders, which today are still negligible and do not meet all the requirements of researchers and industry. Most participants are convinced, that a majority of future 3D printing applications will require completely new materials or the adaptation of existing ones to the requirements of additive manufacturing. A consistent high quality of powders, be it in terms of e.g. grain size, avoidance of impurities, is still a major challenge. Only a consistent, very high quality of the base materials enable repeatable, consistent processes resulting in high-quality parts.

International Standards

As in most industries, the need for international standards is hotly debated. “Openness” is another hot topic that played an important role during the discussions. Today several of the leading additive manufacturing machinery builders, but also start-ups, try to increase their margin by expanding their role in the value chain. Many of these companies are challenging the industry by selling both printers and materials in a closed system and make the end user depend on one supplier. In his lecture Patrik Ohldin – Managing Director at Freemelt – emphasized the importance, advantages and necessity of open source. Freemelt is a small organization devoted making available open source solutions to providing new materials to support 3D printing of metals components. He is convinced that open source accelerates many technologies and can be a catalyst for 3D printing. Especially in R&D, if something is released under an open source license, it allows users and researchers far more possibilities and thus leads to faster developments and innovation than stipulated by copy-right law.

Fabian is part of the automation team at ARC covering manufacturing topics in Europe and is located in ARC’s offices in Dresden, Germany.