Additive manufacturing has become an indispensable part of the industrial sector


15th edition of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D shares new stimuli for additive manufacturing in various industries

Additive manufacturing has become an indispensable part of industrial production. This was made clear to great effect at the 15th edition of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D, which was held from 5 to 7 June 2018 at Messe Erfurt. More than 200 exhibitors in the fully booked exhibition hall 2 and almost 100 expert presentations at the specialist conference clearly showed nearly 5,000 visitors how 3D printing technologies are now solving problems in a variety of sectors. These technologies can be used to custom manufacture implants for medical applications or to make design objects. The aerospace industry is using them to create lightweight structures and components, and the automotive, railway-vehicle-construction, mechanical-engineering and raw-materials industries are all increasingly using additive approaches. They all understand the potential of 3D printing to make their products more customisable while conserving resources, and above all, to get them from first draft to final part more quickly.

As well as leading providers, such as 3D Systems, EOS, FIT, SLM Solutions, Stratasys and Trumpf, who have been regular exhibitors at the Erfurt event for many years, other world-famous companies, such as BMW, Bosch Rexroth, GE Additive, HP and the Israeli company Xjet 3D Ltd., made their débuts this year, presenting innovative solutions for commercial 3D printing applications in industry. A number of medium-sized companies, as well as university and non-university research institutions, also presented their expertise in materials, machinery, software and other additive manufacturing (AM) services. Start-ups and young designers also presented new, creative ideas for 3D printing. Berlin-based Cellbricks GmbH made an impression in the competition for the Start-Up Award – for which a total of € 12,000 was handed out in prizes – with its process for creating human organs artificially using bioprinting, which may help to bring about the end of animal testing. Erfurt also hosted its third international 3D Pioneers Challenge design competition. In 2018, there were submissions to Thuringia from 17 countries from across Europe, Canada, Japan and India. The top 3D printing design ideas from 32 short-listed finalists were named in the categories MedTech, FashionTech, Material, Architecture, Design and Digital. This year’s 3D Pioneers Challenge had a total prize fund of € 15,000.

Some thirty years ago, new and creative ideas such as these became the starting point for the additive applications we know today. The developments this key technology has brought about for industrial users, and will bring about in years to come, were reflected in the keynote talks given by top-class, international speakers that opened each day of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D. The first of these came from Dr Dominik Rietzel of the BMW Group’s Additive Manufacturing Centre. In his talk, “AM on the Road”, he showed how the Bavarian automotive manufacturer had already begun working on its first additive prototype parts with the then start-up EOS back in 1990. Prototyping using 3D printing is still an important tool BMW uses to help accelerate the product-creation process. And for the past 15 years, the company has also been using additive processes to manufacture production equipment. Another area in which BMW employs 3D printing is to further develop its materials, for example to create tools that can produce elastic materials for use in additive processes. Spare-part production, such as for vintage vehicles, and the implementation of special customer requests are further reasons behind the company’s drive to develop 3D-printing technologies. As well as fulfilling unusual requests, such as for gold-plated decorative elements or a humidor in a luxury vehicle, the car manufacturer also offers owners of the MINI the chance to create their own special editions of the cult car with personalised interior and exterior elements through its MINI Yours programme.
After around five years of preparation, BMW took the step into serial production earlier this year. It now makes many thousands of metal canopy mounts for the i8 Roadster using additive processes. Manufacturing them in their current design, which reduces their weight by 40 per cent and their cost by 30 per cent, would not be possible using traditional processes. Visitors to the trade show were able to see the enhanced features of the part right on the car, as BMW brought both an i8 Roadster and a MINI fitted with Rapid.Tech design elements to Erfurt. BMW’s plan for an additive future is known as “Next 100”, and is embodied by a concept car to be made in one piece using a 4D printer and a variety of different materials.

Some 30 years ago, Scott Crump had the vision of printing parts from 2D CAD files at the push of a button. The first product successfully made in this way was a toy frog for his daughter. The inventor of fused-deposition-modelling (FDM) technology – a process used in 90 percent of 3D printers worldwide today – opened the second day of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D. The pioneer of 3D printing took the audience on a journey from the aforementioned frog, through the development of the first prototypical and industrial applications, to a view of a future of automated, scalable additive manufacturing, spread across different locations around the world using cloud solutions.

Founded by Crump and his wife, Lisa, Stratasys became the first company to market 3D printers back in 2002. Today more than 200,000 devices are now installed across the globe, including 45,000 in the industrial sector. With partners in the automotive and aerospace industries, Stratasys in particular has particularly promoted the use of additive manufacturing for efficient prototyping, tool-making and the production of small batches. With new and enhanced processes, machinery, materials and software tools, additive manufacturing has reached a new level of quality, explained Crump during his talk, pointing out the considerably larger composite lightweight components, such as wind-turbine blades, that are now manufactured using additive techniques.

Stratasys is working on developing an infrastructure that allows parts to be 3D printed, reliably and at a consistently high quality, with any number of variants or parts quantities, and with a variety of materials. Crump sees the optimal combination of 3D printing solutions with the possibilities of automation and Industry 4.0, which also includes post-processing in the long term, and the further development of materials as a key task for making additive processes even faster, more replicable and cost efficient in the future, eventually making them suitable for mass production.

One sector that the trade community has so far seldom associated with additive manufacturing was brought into the spotlight by Christoph Wangenheim in his keynote speech on the final day of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D – the oil and gas industry. The manager of additive technologies at GE company Baker Hughes, which has a technology centre in Celle, showed that the raw-materials industry has been driven to use additive technologies for the same reasons as other sectors: to save time, integrate functionalities and to work more cost effectively. However, the conditions under which the products are used differ considerably from those of established 3D printing applications, as the equipment for accessing and exploiting oil and gas sources has to function reliably at temperatures of up to 200°C and pressures of around 500 bar, while withstanding extreme rotational speeds and a corrosive environment. Baker Hughes’ additive age began in 2012 with the manufacture of a small drilling-tool component. Today, more than 50 additively manufactured products are available on the market, and this number is set to grow exponentially in the coming years, predicts Wangenheim. Being able to provide wear-prone parts and other equipment components more rapidly has an enormous impact given that operating a drilling platform can cost around a million dollars per day. As an example, he discussed a tool that in its conventional design could be used for 30 to 40 hours before showing signs of wear. The test of the 3D printed part under corrosive conditions showed that, although it was twice as expensive to make, it was four times more resistant to wear. In the future, additive manufacturing will play a role in the integration of sensors into the tips of drill heads to record predictive data about the drilling environment and determine the correct approach for process management.

“This anniversary edition of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D has once again shown that Erfurt is a firm fixture on the AM family’s calendar as its early summer meeting point. In the “Capital of 3D Printing”, the innovations of today are shown at the trade fair stands while those of tomorrow are discussed across the various conference forums. If you think of it in this way, next year’s show has already begun. Indeed, preparations for the 2019 event are already well under way”, said the Chairs of the Advisory Board, Michael Eichmann (Stratasys) and Professor Gerd Witt (University of Duisburg-Essen), and the CEO of Messe Erfurt GmbH, Michael Kynast.

The 16th Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D will take place from 25 to 27 June 2019 at Messe Erfurt.


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Pictures of the trade show:

Trade show I

Trade show II

Trade show III

Trade show IV