Daimler brings 3D printing closer to series production

Daimler brings 3D printing closer to series production

Technology News |
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, used to be a technique for prototype and one-off production. In a joint project with Premium Aerotec and EOS, Daimler now intends to develop this technology for series production. The project partners have now put a pilot plant into operation.
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

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Additive manufacturing (AM) is becoming increasingly important in the industrial environment, also with regard to series production. Against this background, the aerospace supplier Premium Aerotec, the automobile manufacturer Daimler and the provider of industrial 3D printing solutions EOS have joined forces to develop the next generation of additive manufacturing in the NextGenAM project. After checking the entire AM process for automation potential, the pilot plant in Premium Aerotec’s technology centre in Varel has now been commissioned.

The aim of the project is the development of a complete system for the production of aluminium components for the automotive and aerospace industries. The pilot plant consists of machines for additive production, finishing and quality assurance. The special: The majority of the individual and the interaction of all additive and conventional process steps is fully automated and integrated – manual steps have been eliminated. This allows complex, yet lightweight and stable components to be manufactured The high degree of automation is the basis for economical production.

The core of the pilot production chain is the EOS M 400-4 four-laser system for metal-based industrial 3D printing. The system is used in combination with the peripheral solutions of EOS’ shared module concept. The EOS M 400-4 in Varel is equipped with a powder station and connected to a stand-alone set-up and unpacking station. As a result, filling and emptying the system with the aluminium material, setting up the system to prepare a new construction order and unpacking the finished components from the powder bed can be carried out independently of and parallel to the actual AM construction process. This significantly increases the productivity of the production process. The transport of the additively manufactured components between the individual stations is fully automated and under inert gas in a container on a driverless transport vehicle.

A robot takes the construction platform with the components from the set-up station and places them in a furnace for heat treatment. The same robot arm then removes the construction platform again and takes it to a 3D measuring station for quality assurance. Finally, the construction platform arrives at a saw, which separates the parts from the platform. This means that the components are ready for further use.

“In this project we have already succeeded in significantly reducing the production costs for a component. This creates an economic perspective for large digital 3D printing factories,” says Thomas Ehm, CEO of Premium Aerotec.

From Daimler’s point of view, 3D printing is well on the way to establishing itself in the automotive sector as an additional production method with many variants. “With this joint pre-development project, we are taking a significant step towards the cost-effectiveness of metallic 3D printing along the process chain,” said Jasmin Eichler, Head of Research Future Technologies at Daimler.

In the coming months, the pilot process chain will be further tested and parts of the plant will be audited. In addition, production data is collected and evaluated in order to collect precise data on process times, profitability and cost optimization. This brings the NextGenAM project continuously closer to the goal of producing highly complex aluminium components in series production in a particularly economical additive process.

Further information: https://www.eos.info/nextgenam  

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