The advancements in additive manufacturing is making indian companies look at new methods of creating better products.
by Jayashree Kini Mendes
The biggest engineering companies nowadays prefer to talk about ‘additive manufacturing’ rather than ‘3D printing’. One reason is that printing is not quite the right word for some of the technologies given this label. Whereas hobbyist-scale 3D printers typically build a product by squirting out blobs of plastic, a technique called selective laser melting zaps successive layers of powder with a laser or ion beam, hardening only certain bits. Moreover, the large firms want to stress on the ‘manufacturing’ aspect of this technology, which has moved beyond the R&D labs and is now being used in factories to make complex metal parts.
As a manufacturing technology, additive manufacturing (AM) has been evolving since the late 1980s—but it’s only in the last few years that it can finally be said to be proving its worth in many fields. In the last couple of years, more Indian automotive and aerospace companies are taking recourse to additive manufacturing. Significantly, the scope of AM is now expanding beyond rapid prototyping into industrial applications of both tool-product and direct-part production.
Speaking about some of the advancements in AM, Vikram Reddy, executive, technology, GE Aviation, says, “The latest advancement is Concept Laser M2 cusing and M2 cusing multi-laser additive machines which will be delivered to customers equipped with Predix edge technology. This move allows customers to remotely monitor and collect data from their machines – helping them analyse trends and uncover insights to improve asset performance and operations. It will also give customers the ability to predict when preventive maintenance is required – reducing unscheduled downtime and improving machine availability.”
GE has developed many “Customer Experience Centres” (CEC) around the globe which customers can leverage to accelerate and customise the use of AM for their products. GE Capital offers a range of financial solutions for GE Additive customers to acquire transformative additive machines, materials and application engineering expertise in countries around the globe.
Exploiting the benefits of 3D printing to meet customers’ special requirements, in March, Daimler Buses said it will produce small batches and replacement parts for the Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands. As a technology leader in the bus and coach sector, Daimler Buses is making use of the advantages of this cutting-edge digital component and production technology. Currently, it is already possible to print complex parts located in the bus interior in a single step, which formerly consisted of several and in some cases even moving components. Daimler Buses is drawing on over 25 years of experience with 3D printing processes in truck and prototype construction. “In the medium term, we see digital production technologies as harbouring vast potential to enable us to address market and customer requirements in a flexible manner while at the same time minimising investment risks,” says Hartmut Schick, head, Daimler Buses.
In another move from Daimler, three leading additive manufacturing companies, Premium AEROTEC, EOS and Daimler have announced their partnership on a project which will seek to make metal 3D printing a more viable solution for serial manufacturing. With metal 3D printing’s stock on the rise, the NextGenAM project will aim to lay foundations for mass implementation of the technology in large-scale serial manufacturing. All three of the partners boast a wealth of experience in applying metal 3D printing.
Germany’s Komet Group has sought out Renishaw’s metal additive manufacturing technology to produce new ranges of innovative cutting tools. The AM system uses laser powder bed fusion technology in an inert argon atmosphere. An extremely thin bed of metal powder is laid down and areas that will form the component are melted using a high performance ytterbium fibre laser and then solidified on cooling. This process is repeated with layers of metal powder, typically between 20 and 60 μm thick, until the part is finished. The thinner the layers, the better the accuracy and surface quality of the finished part.
Alloy angels Additive manufacturing cuts the cost of tooling and materials: a piece can have all of its holes incorporated into it, with great precision, as it is built up from powder, instead of needing to have them expensively drilled afterwards. Most companies who are into AM hope to cut costs of some parts by perhaps 30%.
Anand Prakasam, country manager, EOS India, says, “In terms of material type manufacturing, after about 70% of the work is done, there are post operations like pre-treatment. Considering that conventional manufacturing processes such as milling, turning or casting are still popular, the production costs commensurate with the complexity of the part. There is always a risk factor for suppliers because of the constant time pressure associated with prompt manufacturing.”
EOS’s AM technology enables extensive function integration, so that springs or hinged joints can be integrated in the parts during the production process. This allows the manufacturer to reduce the number of individual parts that make up a product. The advantage is that it not only reduces assembly costs significantly, but also the administrative effort, which in this case could be ERP systems.
Explaining the intricacy of design in AM, Nishant Shah, director, Imaginarium, says, “Most of the design for AM is mainly confined to metal. The other aspect is that one needs to understand is the material and the reactions of post processing machines. The process is quite complicated and the support structures are different, though there are softwares to help one out.”
Imaginarium offers numerous technologies such as SLA prototyping, SLS prototyping, CNC, polyurethane vacuum casting, and reaction injection moulding. Its SLA prototyping AM is a technique that can be used for aesthetic testing and production of highly detailed parts with a smooth finish. The technology supports light duty functional parts and is used as a master pattern for short run tooling. Imaginarium uses SLA for prototypes which require high finesse as the process builds one layer at a time by tracing a beam of UV laser on the surface of photo-curable liquid resin. The platform moves downward so that the surface of the platform is a layer-thickness below the resin surface. With each subsequent layer a fresh layer of photopolymer resin flows across the part for the next scan sequence. Once the part is complete, it is removed and placed in a photo curing oven where it is exposed to UV light to complete the curing process. This makes intricate detailing and smooth finish easy to achieve. At Imaginarium we have the SLA Ipro 9000 that boasts of the largest build platform (750 x 650 x 550 mm). It enables parts to be printed as a single piece, resulting in better accuracy and dimension control, at a speed which is 10 times faster than smaller SLA viper machines.
Last month, Dassault Systèmes ushered in a digital transformation of manufacturing in India at its “Manufacturing in the Age of Experience”. Held in Pune, this regional adaptation of the company’s global “Age of Experience” event series provides 100 C-level executives and business leaders from manufacturing sectors in automotive, transportation, aerospace, defence and industrial engineering verticals with a detailed perspective on steps that businesses can take to digitally transform their manufacturing operations.
Samson Khaou, MD, India, Dassault Systèmes, said, “The Make in India initiative is now a global agenda and there is an incredible opportunity for Indian enterprises and SMEs across key verticals to take a giant leap. The first step that Indian manufacturing companies need to take to compete with their global counterparts in an experience economy is to disrupt their traditional manufacturing operations with more agile, flexible, scalable manufacturing processes. In this context, they need to address four areas of the manufacturing equation: Digital manufacturing, manufacturing operations management, supply chain planning & operations and additive manufacturing.”
Guillaume Vendroux, CEO, DELMIA, Dassault Systèmes, said during his speech, “The world of manufacturing has shifted its focus from mass production to mass customisation and quick delivery to an on-demand generation of consumers. Complete synchronisation and integration of operations, modularity and predictive analytics have enabled manufacturers to provide consumers with a personalised experience. Additive manufacturing is becoming a game changer. ‘Manufacturing in the Age of Experience’ offers a unique opportunity to explore how industries can digitally transform with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.”
what’s in store
The next generation of parts will soon become lighter and more reliable thanks to additive manufacturing. As increasingly sophisticated designs, new high-performance materials and faster machines emerge, the use of additive manufacturing is extending beyond creative product design and prototyping to gain traction as one of the key industrial manufacturing processes worldwide. Virtual technologies can help accelerate this large-scale adoption. The integration of 3D design combined with engineering and simulation optimises parts for additive manufacturing, enables standardised parameters and therefore allows certification standards.
With such an approach, it won’t be long before the industry can accelerate a wave of transformation in the manufacturing industry.