Additive manufacturing: Excellent opportunities for aluminium in 3D printing
Large-scale industrial production the goal
The technology of metal 3D printing has been long-established in the production of complex parts and for challenging short production runs. But the potential of additive manufacturing (AM) is far from exhausted. Research and application technology work is currently underway on the next generation: industrial 3D printing, which is supposed to lay the foundation for large-scale industrial production. Experts are crediting aluminium with being a leading material in this regard. It could develop into one of the most sought-after materials.
A universal material
Research institutions and application industries are engaged in a variety of diverse activities. “NextGenAM”, a joint programme aimed at developing a production system for large-scale additive manufacturing, has been running since mid-2017. Three powerful partners – the aerospace supplier Premium AEROTEC, the technology provider EOS and the automotive manufacturer Daimler – have set out to further advance industrial 3D printing and make it more efficient. Combining their firepower, their goal is to integrate manufacturing processes into one production line while qualifying aluminium as a universal material. On this basis, they’re laying the foundation for large-scale automated industrial production. The project team is leveraging the synergies and varying requirements of the partners. They’re considering the entire process: from the metal powder to the individual processing steps to the printing process to any required rework. Even though the project partners are looking at the target from different angles, economic efficiency and production times are at the very top of everyone’s agenda.
New approaches for design engineers
In addition to the planning of highly effective manufacturing lines, engineers must also think about designing universal components. 3D printing opens up new technical opportunities, providing completely new approaches for design engineers. There are many diverse application-related benefits. Parts used in aerospace rely on the material properties of aluminium or titanium, combining them with the design freedom of additive manufacturing. The outcome are low-cost components that are substantially lighter in weight than conventionally produced ones. The task now is to transfer these experiences to large-scale production in, for example, automotive engineering.
Compensating for process-related drawbacks
When it comes to developing new components, one must think about not just component design and production planning but also about the materials to be used. For the “classic” manufacturing processes such as milling or turning, casting, forging, or pressing, a large number of aluminium alloys are available to product developers, each optimised and designed to match the respective application or requirement. Not all alloys are suitable for additive processes. While Aluminium AlSi10Mg is the material most often used today, one important task will be the roll out of new and special aluminium alloys – high-performance materials that are tailored to additive manufacturing and that compensate for process-related disadvantages.
US automaker Ford serves as an example to illustrate the enormous potential of 3D printing processes in lightweight construction. The car manufacturers aim to save up to 50 per cent of the weight by using printed brake discs made from aluminium. Ford has filed a patent for this process.