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Fraunhofer Lighthouse Project futureAM refines metal 3D printing for industry

11 Nov 2020

Multi-research center projects achieve new laser-based materials processes, showcased this week at virtual Formnext expo.

With the aim of accelerating the additive production of metal components by at least a factor of 10, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft launched the lighthouse project “futureAM – Next Generation Additive Manufacturing” in 2017.

As the project now comes to its end in November 2020, six associated Fraunhofer institutes have just reported “technological leaps forward in systems engineering, materials and process control as well as end-to-end digitalization, thus increasing the performance and cost-effectiveness of metal-based additive manufacturing along the entire process chain.”

The futureAM team is available to disucuss these technologies at this week’s virtual Formnext 2020, running through November 12th. Registration is via this link.

On the one hand, the futureAM partners have focused on integrating the digital and physical value chain from incoming orders to the finished metallic 3D printed component and, on the other, on making leaps forward into a new technology generation of additive manufacturing methods and system.

The digital platform Virtual Lab plays an important role in this, as it pools competencies digitally and makes the entire AM process transparent for all partners involved. “We are now on the threshold of industrial implementation,” said Christian Tenbrock, group leader at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) and futureAM project manager. “The expertise we have gained together is now to be transferred to industrial application.”

Virtual Lab

A major challenge for futureAM was the interplay between all participants, which cover different areas of the entire process chain. The Virtual Lab, a digital platform that ensures the exchange of information across all AM task areas and players, has proven its worth, the researchers say.

In this context, the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technologies (IAPT) has developed various software tools for the design of AM components. In this way, it has created web-based simulation tools for metal AM, tools that can also be used by beginners.

In the materials field of activity, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS), Dresden, has researched which materials can be combined with each other in a component and which problems arise in the process. Among other things, the Dresden researchers have dealt with expanding the applicable spectrum of additively processable high-temperature materials and researched how these can be combined in a multi-material design.

The interaction of laser material deposition and artificial intelligence yielded an exciting result: with AI-supported process analysis, the institute could analyze a wide range of influencing factors and optimize the manufacturing process.

Fraunhofer IWS said it has demonstrated how well this process already works using multi-material components made of nickel and aluminum. Depending on the component requirements, the researchers add either a third or fourth element in order to adapt the properties exactly to the respective application.

Components in XXL format

The scientists at Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen have developed a demonstrator system built by a machine manufacturer. It is a system for 3D printing of components on an XXL scale. For example, a demonstrator component for future generations of Rolls-Royce engines could be manufactured with laser powder bed fusion thanks to the large build volume (1000 x 800 x 400 mm) and a new machine system with a mobile optical system.

Similar successes have been achieved with extreme high speed laser material deposition, which can now also be used to produce 3D components. The newly-developed process allows extremely quick deposition speeds with high detail resolution.

The researchers also identified great potential for optimization in post-processing. The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) in Chemnitz, has developed an automated solution for this as part of the project.

To enable the process to identify and track the physical component beyond doubt and continuously, a code is incorporated during manufacturing and read out later. This code also ensures efficient and trouble-free copy protection.

In the next step, the actual geometry of the clamped component is recorded by laser scanners and the optimum processing strategy derived by comparing the target and actual geometry. The processing is then automatically carried out by a robot and is verified in the process by renewed 3D scans.

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