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3D printing – opportunities and challenges of additive manufacturing

3D printing is rapidly gaining importance. This trend-setting technology makes particularly effective use of the potentials digitalization has to offer – with far-reaching consequences for manufacturing companies and the entire hardware industry. Learn more about technologies and potentials, opportunities and challenges of additive manufacturing at a special exhibition taking place at the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR.

Textiles, medical implants and prostheses, prototypes, tools, components and spare parts of all kinds: all this is more and more often created in layers by a 3D printer. This trend-setting technology offers almost infinite possibilities for designing objects in complex shapes from different materials. Printing filaments are based on plastics or ceramics, and lately even on metals and organic materials. Innovative processes such as laser sintering enable components to be produced in three-dimensional geometries that cannot be achieved by conventional mechanical production methods such as casting.

In view of the immense time and machine expenditure for very demanding 3D prints, additive production has so far been used primarily for prototyping and the small series production of highly complex components. But that is going to change. Rapid technological development increasingly opens up potential for production – especially in combination with intelligent automation. Siemens, for example, has built “spider robots” using 3D printing, and they in turn print 3D objects autonomously and collaboratively while being mobile.


How 3D printing revolutionizes industrial production

According to a study by management consultants Ernst & Young, 3D printing in Germany already generates an annual turnover of one billion euros; internationally, it is 10 billion. And German companies have a global lead in the use of the technology: 37 percent are already working with additive production. For comparison: in China, the share is 24 percent, in the USA a mere 16 percent. In 2060, according to a forecast by the Dutch ING Bank, 50 percent of all goods will already be coming from the 3D printer.

That, of course, will have consequences as this disruptive technology revolutionizes manufacturing. After all, 3D printing has considerable cost-cutting potential, increases precision and quality and offers the opportunity to meet the growing demand for personalised products. Industrial manufacturing no longer relies on factories and production lines, but could happen anywhere – even in space. On the International Space Station ISS, a ratchet was recently produced via 3D printer, saving the astronauts from having to wait several months for replacement tools from Earth. The CAD file with the design data was created by NASA and “beamed” up to ISS.

According to the Ernst & Young study, almost 43 percent of German companies expect 3D printing to have an impact on future production. Construction and product design will be becoming increasingly important. Production will be relocated back to the domestic market, but with considerably lower personnel requirements, or outsourced to external service providers. In addition, additive processes require significantly fewer tools – and often enough, these also come out of the 3D printer more and more frequently.


Challenges and opportunities for the hardware industry

An innovation from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (ICTS) demonstrates how strongly the hardware industry is affected by this development when a new Binder Jet 3D printing process for the production of high-performance carbide components was presented in 2016. The tools produced with this material are characterised by high mechanical, chemical and heat resistance as well as by extreme hardness. In this way, they meet the requirements for tools used in machine or vehicle construction or in the plastics and building materials industries.

The hardware industry and the traditional tooling industry thus face considerable challenges. In order to take advantage of their opportunities, companies have to take a close look at the potential of 3D printing. New business models for production sites particularly arise in the areas of construction, prototyping and special production, in addition to personalised products and producing 3D objects as a service provider or contract manufacturer. The retail sector, too, can benefit from these developments. Some companies now feature 3D printing services, including a platform that offers creative do-it-yourselfers new opportunities for designing and printing individual projects and accurate spare parts.


Special exhibition 3D printing at the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR 2018

The 2018 INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR will focus on the topic of 3D printing with a special exhibition on its technologies and potentials, opportunities and challenges. More than 30 exhibits show what is already today’s reality, e.g. printed spare parts from Deutsche Bahn and components printed with a metal-filament printer. Live presentations, including the world’s first carbon printer, a desktop laser-sintering system and a large plastic-filament printer, show the technology’s power. In addition, lectures by international experts will provide information on topics such as “Additive Manufacturing in Production, Trade & Logistics”, “Large Filament Printers and Desktop SLS Systems” or “Carbon Printers and Metal Filament Printers”.

More information on the special exhibition 3D printing and the lecture programme can be found on the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR website.


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