Additive manufacturing technology enables much more complex structures to be created using new processes and materials
Additive manufacturing technology enables much more complex structures to be created using new processes and materials
( Source: Bosch)

Additive Manufacturing 3D printing solutions for industrial mass production

Editor: Florian Richert

3D printing will open up unprecedented possibilities for industrial users in the development and production of intricate designs in the coming years.

"We are developing the basic principles that are the prerequisite for high-quality industrial production," explains Dr Lukas Löber from Bosch, who heads the research project "Line Integration Additive Manufacturing". By September 2022, developers from 15 companies and universities want to develop new processes for the automotive industry or mechanical engineering, for example. "With new standards, we are laying the foundation for a technological lead, thereby enabling competitive advantages for many companies," says Löber. The research project has a volume of 13.6 million euros, of which 6.9 million euros come from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Additive manufacturing processes - the correct term for 3D printing - are already being used to create highly complex structures made of plastic or even metal. These include, for example, individually shaped hip joints, individual turbine blades for jets or multiple cooling channels that would not be possible with other manufacturing technologies. The printer applies the material layer by layer and thus reproduces the shape previously designed on the computer. "In this way, interesting individual pieces are created, which, however, are further processed by hand. In industry, however, we want to produce the same products a thousand times over on one production line, while maintaining the same quality," explains Löber. Only when this leap is successful can the still-young technology develop its full potential on a broad front and pave the way for new products in many sectors. For example, lightweight and vibration-damping engine mounts are of interest. The project participants assume that additive manufacturing can make a significant contribution to realizing such requirements.

Research project works on new standards for 3D printing

The research project covers topics along the entire process chain. Among other things, the additional possibilities of product design, the properties and further development of the materials used and the individual steps in the production process and further processing shall receive attention. The technology in focus is the so-called laser beam melting (also L-PBF-M). Laser beams precisely melt metal powder applied in layers and thus bring it into shape. This process is not always reliably stable, which can lead to defects in the components. These challenges must first be solved by intensive process monitoring.

However, the project aims to overcome even more hurdles on the way to industrial application. For example, the printer sets up the parts on a platform which must then be separated again. "We have to put this step on an industrial basis," says Löber. This is also necessary for the mechanical or thermal processing steps. It is also required to research the materials used. "Metals cool down much faster with this additive production technology. This creates completely new properties in the material," explains Löber. The developers want to create uniform processes and thus, new standards for all these questions.

Diverse applications still too little known

The project participants also hope that through their work, the possibilities of additive manufacturing will become better known. The basic knowledge is not yet widespread, as the technology has only been used for individual solutions for almost two decades. "Accordingly, hardly any developers are considering 3D printing when they think about new products and their manufacturing steps," says Löber. At the same time, he says that additive manufacturing makes interesting shapes and solutions possible that would never be achievable with conventional methods.

Photonics research field

The project on additive manufacturing processes is part of the BMBF's "Photonics Research Germany" programme. Photonics initially developed from optical communications engineering, which replaced electrical transmission technology in the 1980s with the use of optical fibres as a transmission medium and the laser diode as a modulable light source. Today, this research area includes not only communication but also fields such as nanotechnology (nanophotonics), lighting and displays, industrial production and quality assurance, and life sciences (biophotonics).

The project participants overview:

  • Robert Bosch GmbH
  • Mercedes Benz AG
  • EDAG Engineering GmbH
  • Realizer GmbH
  • INTES GmbH
  • Heraeus Noblelight GmbH
  • Rosswag GmbH
  • Indutherm Gießtechnologie GmbH
  • Qass GmbH
  • simufact engineering gmbh
  • USU Software AG
  • Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
  • Universität Paderborn
  • Karlsruher Institut für Technologie