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Adam Wesoly |

Additive Manufacturing: Does the future belong to 3D printing?

There are only four weeks left before this year’s Hannover Messe. We, too, are of course working in high gear to prepare for this important event. This year we’ll be exhibiting at the Siemens booth under the motto “On the way to Industrie 4.0 – Driving the Digital Enterprise.” But what highlights and surprises can visitors to the trade fair expect? In a Hannover Messe blog series I’ll offer a preview of what’s to come over the next few weeks.

3D printing is a big trend right now. But what opportunities does this technology, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), actually offer industry? I’ve got some answers from Ulli Klenk, responsible for Additive Manufacturing at Siemens.

Read also my first two articles:

Everyone’s talking about 3D printing right now. Why?

Ulli Klenk: Additive manufacturing makes production much more flexible and also permits individualized mass production: CAD data is adapted in accordance with the customer’s specifications, transferred to the 3D printer, and the product is manufactured. Additive manufacturing is also used to some extent in product finishing. In this case, a product is manufactured in large series volumes using traditional manufacturing processes, and only the individualized part is printed.

Additive manufacturing also enables structures to be manufactured that would be impossible to achieve using traditional methods. For example, if components that are currently solid could be printed with cavities in the future, that would make possible substantial savings in both weight and space. And additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing require no tools, meaning no time or costs are expended on the construction of tools such as injection molding forms.

How is Siemens preparing to provide its customers with support in the area of 3D printing?

Ulli Klenk: We are already able to support our customers in ensuring the most appropriate use of the new technology in their manufacturing processes along the entire AM value chain – in other words, from product development through 3D printer automation to production itself. At Siemens, we already make products using additive manufacturing processes, including spare parts for turbines.

We also work closely with front-end development and the research department. This is key, because in this way we are helping to shape international standards, and it also secures the latest process and material knowledge. And, of course, we collaborate with customers, universities, and trade and professional associations. We are consortium partners in the DMRC (Direct Manufacturing Research Center) and are on the Executive Board of the Additive Manufacturing working group of the German Engineering Federation, VDMA.

Critics always stress the disadvantages, like the lengthy production times for workpieces.

Ulli Klenk: We take criticism very seriously. But different manufacturing processes cannot be compared using the same parameters, such as production times or precision. Every manufacturing process, including 3D printing, has specific advantages depending on where it is used. Additive manufacturing is not in direct competition with existing manufacturing processes and will not completely replace them. Instead, 3D printing will provide an ideal complement to traditional procedures like injection molding and milling.

This is also evident in the increasing numbers of hybrid machines that combine additive and traditional procedures. For instance, complex parts can be produced using additive manufacturing, and then the finishing milling process is performed fully automatically using the same machine. These machines combine the freedom offered by Additive Manufacturing with the precision of a milling machine.

Thank you Ulli for this interesting interview!

Additive manufacturing literally gives shape to the benefits of digitalization for the manufacturing industry – digitalization you can wrap your hands around. The scene in process manufacturing is completely different, however: There the focus is less on the product and much more on the process as such. The aim is to optimize the use of long-lasting equipment throughout its entire lifecycle. Digitalization can be of benefit here as well – as you’ll discover next week in my upcoming post.

Visit us at Hannover Messe 2015 in Hall 9 from April 13 to 17 and talk to our experts. For free tickets, please visit our website. We look forward to meeting you in person.

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