Additive Manufacturing How robots can assist inkjet printing on 3D components

Editor: Alexander Stark

The Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems Enas participated in the digital Lopex 2021 from March 23-25, 2021. The institute presented its inkjet printing technology for 3D components as robot-assisted processes as well as printed components for fuel cells.

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Robot-assisted inkjet printing on 3D components at Fraunhofer Enas.
Robot-assisted inkjet printing on 3D components at Fraunhofer Enas.
(Source: Biermann & Jung)

Germany — The automated production of customized products has been targeted by important markets such as automotive or aerospace. In order to reflect this trend in production, technologies are required that allow the efficient manufacturing of individual products while taking advantage of the economic benefits of mass production. Specifically, Fraunhofer Enas is developing functional printing on 3D objects. Functional inks with dielectric or electrically conductible properties are applied to print cable harnesses or even complex sensor systems on arbitrary 3D objects. The printing on 3D objects is implemented in a robot-assisted process, allowing an application of the printing technology on most diverse and distinctive objects.

The institute uses among others a 6-axis robot-assisted inkjet printing technology and performs extensive research to overcome various challenges of functional printing on 3D objects such as adhesive strength of printed layers and realization of homogenous electrical conductors on curved or vertical surfaces. Extensive research work has been done in the context of the Fraunhofer lighthouse project “Go Beyond 4.0” together with other Fraunhofer institutes. The project was presented at the Lopec conference in the talk “Towards Individualization of Products in Mass Production: Introducing Digital Manufacturing Routes of the Fraunhofer Lighthouse Project Go Beyond 4.0” by Prof. Dr. Reinhard R. Baumann in the Plenary Session.

Printing processes for the manufacture of fuel cell components

In the EU project Mama-MEA, Fraunhofer Enas is working with other partners to evaluate existing printing and coating technologies for their potential to enable the mass manufacturing of MEAs. MEAs (Membrane Electrode Assembly) are core components for the chemical reaction within low-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which are used e.g. to drive vehicles. The active PEM area within a car fuel cell is about 30 m2. Thus, 30,000 m2 of MEA are needed to produce just 1000 cars — a size equivalent to five soccer fields. To produce such large areas of functional MEAs, an effective manufacturing approach is required. By using printing technology, the manufacturing flow can be changed to generate a larger output volume compared to state-of-the-art workflows. The research is focused on inkjet printing, with its advantages of being digitally driven and contact-free. Fraunhofer Enas contributes with its experience and equipment to the evaluation of inkjet printing technology for the manufacturing of PEM fuel cells.

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