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Two additive manufacturing production lines installed in Germany

Two modular production lines have been established in Germany to demonstrate that both large corporations and SMEs can use additive manufacturing to produce metal components economically in varying batch sizes.

The two lines were installed at Siemens Energy’s gas turbine plant in Berlin, and at Toolcraft AG’s headquarters in Georgensgmünd.

Both operators of the new lines have reported positively that individual mid-series products can indeed be mass-produced using laser powder bed fusion.

Three years ago the IDEA project (Industrialization of Digital Engineering and Additive Manufacturing) was launched between eleven industrial companies and four research institutes to examine and optimise the entire AM process chain. The project has been funded as part of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiative ‘Line integration of additive manufacturing processes’.

Concluding in October, the project saw the intensive development and implementation of many sub-processes along the AM chain, with the resultant production lines now being able to physically and digitally map the entire chain via digital twins. Both also use automated measurement methods and control systems for component geometry monitoring during builds, as well as automated finishing capability for additively manufactured components.

According to the project partners, the production lines therefore differ significantly from conventional 3D printing systems, since the latter have largely isolated process steps and require many manual interventions, both of which can easily lead to ‘trial and error’ production and high component costs.

“In the field of additive manufacturing, the digital twin is revolutionising processes along the entire value chain,” highlights Dr Karsten Heuser, VP of Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Digital Industries. “As a virtual image of the additive component, production process or performance, it enables us to seamlessly link the individual process steps. By using the digital twin, we could consistently increase the efficiency of the two industrial lines, minimise the error rate, as well as shorten the development cycles.”

At the Siemens Energy plant in Berlin, the partners were able to achieve reductions in development and throughput times of around 50% when producing turbine guide vanes via the newly installed production line. “These results will enable us to further advance the industrialisation of additive manufacturing and offer key components of our gas turbines at competitive costs, even in small quantities,” said Julius Schurb of Siemens Energy, and manager of the IDEA project.

Demonstrator of a turbine guide vane manufactured with continuous-wave (left) and pulsed wave (right) contour exposure with enhanced detail resolution. (Image: Fraunhofer ILT)

The other production line was established at the Georgensgmünd headquarters of Toolcraft AG, which specialises in the production of tools and injection moulded parts, as well as precision components and assemblies for the aerospace, semiconductor and medical technology industries.

“In the IDEA project, we succeeded in completing important development steps, including being able to better map an integrated, end-to-end manufacturing chain made up of sub-processes,” said Markus Langer, head of Digital Transformation/Technology and Development Promotion at Toolcraft. “Manual work steps were substituted by automation solutions, which helped us achieve higher process stability and quality. In order to use real data virtually, we also need to highlight digitalisation, which must be considered globally for the production of additively manufactured components. It was also important, for example, to use VR goggles to transfer analogue data, as further developed in IDEA, to digital work plans, to work and test instructions and interactive training. This way we could accompany the employees in the highly complex task environment in the best possible manner.”

The new additive manufacturing production line at Toolcraft AG in Georgensgmünd (Image: Toolcraft AG)

The interdisciplinary composition of the IDEA project team brought together experts in turbomachinery, digitalisation, automation, aircraft technology, post-processing, laser and 3D printing technology, among others – this mixture proved to be a key factor for the project’s success.

The full list of project partners included: Siemens Energy | Siemens Digital Industries | MTU Aero Engines AG | Toolcraft AG | Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH | Trumpf Laser- und Systemtechnik GmbH | EOS GmbH | Jenoptik Industrial Metrology Germany GmbH | BCT Steuerungs- und DV-Systeme GmbH | ModuleWorks GmbH | Allmatic-Jakob Spannsysteme GmbH | Chair for Digital Additive Production DAP, RWTH Aachen University | Machine Tool Laboratory | RWTH Aachen University | Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT | Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT

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