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MANUFACTURING


❱❱ Industrial 3D printing technology is at


the heart of the automatic manufacturing cell being developed as part of the NextGenAM project


Additive manufacturing set to go mainstream


The NextGenAM project aims to create automated 3D printing manufacturing cells for mainstream aerospace and automotive component production


A


dditive manufacturing specialists Premium Aerotec and EOS have been working with customers to develop an automated 3D printing cell for volume manufacturing of metallic components.


Additive manufacturing (AM) has been seen as a


complementary process for investigating component profiles and creating lightweight, high-strength parts from plastics, ceramics and even metals. The technology enables engineers to design more


creatively and to shed the constraints of traditional manufacturing processes. With AM, parts that once would have been unmanufacturable are now possible. Yet long processing times, frequent manual


intervention and post-processing have kept the technology out of reach for volume production. That could change under the NextGenAM project. The pilot project seeks to develop a digitalised


next-generation manufacturing line able to produce aluminium components for the automotive and aerospace sectors significantly more cost-effectively than is currently possible.


FULL AUTOMATION According to Premium Aerotec, the project involves an ingenious and scalable additive production chain that is fully automated through to the point where printed parts are mechanically sawn off the build platform. No manual work is needed at any stage of the process, from data preparation and powder supply through to the AM build process itself. The downstream post-processing has also been


extensively automated. A robot takes the build platform with the parts from the setup station and places it in a furnace for subsequent heat treatment. The same robot then removes the platform and


16 /// Testing & Test Houses /// June 2019


takes it to a 3D optical measurement system for quality assurance purposes. Finally, the build platform is conveyed to a saw, which separates the parts from it, making the components ready for use. The technical heart of the system is the EOS M


400-4 four-laser system for industrial 3D printing using metal materials. A driverless transport system and robots ensure the smooth movement of the parts through every stage of the production line. The entire production process runs itself, without operating personnel, from a central, autonomous control station. Dr Adrian Keppler, CEO of EOS, says: “The


NextGenAM project provides a very tangible demonstration of how industrial 3D printing can be used cost-effectively in series production as part of an automated process chain.”


FUTURE OUTLOOK Of the components that have been tried out, NextGenAM has so far yielded good results in terms of quality output and manufacturing costs. To develop the technology further, the team now needs to ensure that products produced meet the exacting standards of the industries most likely to use the technology. One automotive industry partner involved sees


significant advantages in using the production cell for manufacturing replacement parts on demand, as well as for producing lighter weight components for the new generation of electric vehicles. All of this is possible with the right accreditation. Once testing and verification has been completed,


automated AM cells could become a standard feature in the automotive industry. T&TH


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