Additive manufacturing is revolutionising mechanical engineering. This also has a major impact on IT tools, from design to manufacturing execution systems.
The topic of "additive manufacturing" is currently preoccupying the manufacturing industry like no other: 3D printing opens up possibilities that have the potential of completely changing the world of production in the coming years. Growth is therefore strong: Gartner estimates that more than 490,000 3D printers were sold last year. The plastics and metals used in the process also seem to be making great progress.
General Electrics, for example, was able to reduce the complexity of a fuel nozzle for one of its engine models from twenty to a single component. This step was possible because the complete nozzle is now printed in one piece. Thus, production is much faster and cheaper. Siemens Power and Gas, on the other hand, has introduced a new combustion head for large gas turbines that is manufactured in a 3D printer. It is equipped with very fine channels that improve the cooling of the combustion head and thus reduce the temperature significantly. This extends the service life considerably while at the same time reducing maintenance costs. 3D printing is also initiating a paradigm shift in areas where casting processes have been used to date, for example, in the design and manufacturing of engines. Thanks to additive manufacturing, it is possible to significantly increase the cooling surface area of a unit. In this way it can be designed smaller and lighter. In addition, even small series can now be produced in a very cost-efficient way. Another important driver for additive manufacturing is 3D printing "on demand". This concerns in particular the production of spare parts. After all, it is extremely important for companies to be able to replace faulty components quickly and easily. Above all, however, they want to eliminate the high costs involved in storing spare parts. That's why Siemens Mobility has an own department that produces spare parts for trains "on demand" using 3D printing.
3D printing is also an interesting option when large logistical hurdles have to be overcome for the delivery of spare parts. A good example is oil platforms. If a drilling head breaks, it is much less complicated and less expensive for the plant operator to produce the new head on site using a 3D printer.
Considerations like these prompted the US Navy to use 3D printers on some ships, which allow them to produce spare parts on the high seas. These and many other practical applications are just the beginning of a far-reaching revolution. Falling prices for printers combined with higher printing speeds will presumably ensure that the change to this type of production will gain even more momentum in the coming years.
New IT tools in demand
With the transition to additive manufacturing, IT system also need to fulfil completely new applications and functions. For a manufacturer of PLM systems, this requires adjustments in all areas: design with CAD systems, engineering with Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), Computer Aided Manufacturing, Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM), and Manufacturing Execution System (MES).
In the future, design tools must be geared to the specific geometry of 3D models (facet structures) and hybrid modelling. The tools should also be able to create and visualize weight-optimised structures or grids and to work with different materials. In manufacturing, the addition of material, as is the case with 3D printing, must also be reflected in the IT tools. In CAE, on the other hand, it is not only important to keep the design of the final component in mind, but also the special process of applying material layer by layer. A look at thermal aspects and the structural component is also more relevant than in conventional manufacturing.
In 3D printing, the correlation between design, manufacturing, and CAE is becoming increasingly important. This applies in particular to the close connection between CAE and CAM. Most probably, CAE technology will play the biggest role as a differentiator in the end-to-end process. PLM providers who have already gained a lot of experience in the field of hybrid manufacturing, will have a competitive advantage when they decide to include 3D printing into their production processes.
The production of the future
Additive manufacturing is already being applied in many areas. More and more companies are discovering the almost limitless possibilities of this technology. After all, the advantages extend across several areas. From product development through design and manufacturing to business processes. At the same time, additive manufacturing will inspire designs that are still completely unthinkable today.
At the same time, companies are simplifying their production processes and reclaiming individual areas of production by means of insourcing. This gives them the opportunity to improve quality controls and reduce their warehousing. As a result, 3D printers will become standard equipment in production within a few years.
This article first appeared on www.maschinenmarkt.ch.