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FutureAM project to accelerate metal additive manufacturing

The Fraunhofer focus project, FutureAM, which over the next three years aims to establish the prerequisites for advances in metal additive manufacturing (AM), was launched in November by the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and five other project partners.

Partners from industry and science met on 14 November for the kick-off of the Fraunhofer futureAM focus project in Aachen. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

Together, the Fraunhofer Institutes ILT, IWS, IWU, IGD and IFAM, as well as the future Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technology IAPT – currently the LZN Laser Zentrum Nord until 1 January 2018 – aim to both accelerate the development of metal AM while reducing manufacturing costs. The project also plans to abolish the current limitations of size in metal AM with the help of new plant design concepts.

One of the underlying objectives of the six project partners is to help Germany maintain and expand its leading position in metal AM by securing the nation’s technological edge in four particular fields of activity: Industry 4.0 and digital process chains; scalable and robust AM processes; materials; and system technology and automation. Throughout the project, the German research institutions will share their knowledge base in these activity fields to generate significant technological leaps that in turn can be taken up by industry.

‘The research platform will develop new digital process chains, scalable and robust AM processes, systems engineering and automation, as well as expand the range of processable and affordable materials,’ explained Professor Johannes Henrich Schleifenbaum, coordinator of FutureAM and director of additive manufacturing and functional layers at Fraunhofer ILT in Aachen.

Christian Tenbrock of Fraunhofer ILT presents the SLM laboratory equipment for large metal components to the participants of the futureAM kick-off meeting. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

The FutureAM platform differs from other 3D printing consortia by being characterised by practical relevance, according to Fraunhofer ILT, based on the many years of experience the participating institutions have gathered within metal AM.

‘It is unknown to many that some companies already use additive manufacturing for series production – for example, for the production of dentures, implants or turbine components,’ said Schleifenbaum. ‘Building on these first pioneering achievements, we are now concerned with implementing and integrating a new generation of metal AM along the entire process chain. The complete digitisation of the process chain, new materials, innovative design options and an accelerated production process by a factor of 10 are the objectives.’

The six project partners therefore cooperate in a virtual lab with a closed digital map of the competences and equipment of the participating institutes. Every machine or product is assigned and described a ‘digital twin’, enabling real systems to be optimised by means of modelling and simulation. This is used, for example, for error diagnosis, predictive analysis or product and process optimisation. Autonomous systems within the virtual laboratory can also support people on location with suitable evaluation and monitoring tools. The virtual lab thus provides complete digital transparency.

Ulrich Thombansen explains the system technology for selective laser melting. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

The scientists of the different project partners work together in an interdisciplinary manner across the entire process chain, from designing or re-designing a component, producing it with a selective laser melting process, setting up the support structures with laser metal deposition technology, to removing them automatically and post-processing the component.

The LZN Laser Zentrum Nord and Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD will be responsible for Industry 4.0 and digital process chains. Meanwhile, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM will work on a reinforcing structure made of a second high-strength material. Lastly, the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU will be responsible for the system technology and automation of component post-processing.

As the coordinator, Fraunhofer ILT will ensure that the project results in scalable and robust AM processes. 

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