Q&R It is worthwhile for every company to take a look at additive manufacturing

Author / Editor: Rosemarie Stahl / Rosemarie Stahl

Sascha F. Wenzler is Vice-President of Formnext and the man behind the trade show. In this interview, he explains why additive manufacturing has become so important for the manufacturing industry and who should visit the trade show.

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Sascha Wenzler is Vice-President of Formnext at Mesago Messe Frankfurt.
Sascha Wenzler is Vice-President of Formnext at Mesago Messe Frankfurt.
(Source: Mesago)

With Formnext approaching, we wanted to know what is special about the trade show. Sascha Wenzler explains the importance of additive manufacturing, the current state of the technology and what he looks forward to at Formnext 2018.

Who should definitely visit Formnext 2018?

The entire manufacturing industry is one of Formnext's visitor target groups, be it aerospace, automotive, medical technology, dental technology, mechanical engineering, construction and architecture, electronics, research, offshore, healthcare, jewellery or white goods. The overall processes, from design, material, software and pre-processing to actual production and post-processing, are becoming increasingly important for visitors from the manufacturing industry as a solution to their manufacturing questions, and Formnext provides the answers.

One of your slogans for promoting the trade show is “I produce, therefore I am at Formnext 2018”. Is it still possible to produce without additive manufacturing?

Every manufacturing company concentrates on faster or more efficient production and considers new manufacturing processes in order to stand out from the competition. Additive manufacturing (AM) makes many things possible that, until recently, were unthinkable or simply impossible to produce. In almost all production areas, the use of additive manufacturing brings advantages. Potentials can be exploited in the form of faster time-to-market, new and free design, lighter or bionic structures, lower use of resources and more. And new applications are added almost daily. Whether in the metal sector, plastics, ceramics, CFRP, sand, glass or fabric printing – it is worthwhile for every company to take a look at the diverse application possibilities of the technologies and processes that will be on show at Formnext.

For a long time, there have been inflated expectations about 3D printing, for example, that in future we will all have our own printers and will be able to print almost everything we need. To what extent do you think there are still exaggerated promises in the industry, or have they lost touch with reality in the meantime?

There are still articles circulating in the general press that are catchy and promise all sorts of things with the “3D printer”. Attention is good, but the industrial reality of additve manufacturing looks different. The advantages of the technology are eminent and additive technologies have long since found their way into industrial production far beyond prototype construction and into series production. This path has only just begun. But as in every technology, there are limits that shift but never disappear completely. Standardisation and process reliability are such tasks that have to be solved. AM will find its rightful place in industrial production and will supplement conventional processes wherever it makes sense and is economical, but will never replace them completely.

With AM, many new and serious possibilities open up, but the idea that we'll be printing everything ourselves in our own garage at some point in the future is fanciful. But it certainly makes sense to give children a playful approach to the subject, for example, with a table printer and the appropriate software. 3D printing in particular manages to arouse enthusiasm for technology, even among the little ones.

Together with the Reutlingen University of Applied Sciences, you have developed the AM Field Guide. Is it difficult to organise a trade show for a technology the basics of which have yet to be conveyed to many visitors?

Like any highly specialised capital goods trade fair, Formnext also requires explaining and transferring know-how on the increasingly complex procedures and processes of AM technologies to visitors. Many visitors are very familiar with the manufacturing process of their own products and its properties, but the potential benefits of using AM are not yet known or not sufficiently known. Just looking at the latest cutting-edge machines is no longer enough to make the necessary investment decisions, especially when it is no longer just the large companies familiar with AM that are being addressed. Fact id, today, more and more medium-sized companies and suppliers are considering entering the industrial 3D printing market.

As organisers, we provide various offers for knowledge transfer both throughout the year and at the fair in order to explain the various technologies and products at the fair to both the technology crack and the newcomer. These include the high-end conference organised by our content partner, TCT at Formnext, the “Discover 3Dprinting” seminar series for beginners, which we organise together with the Aachen Center for Additive Manufacturing (ACAM) during the year and at the fair, the “Ready4Industry” special area with best-practice examples presented by our honorary sponsor, the project group “AM” at the VDMA, the German Engineering Federation and, for example, the new publication, the “AM Field-Guide”, which we published in this form together with FH Reutlingen as a “World Map of AM” for the 2018 trade fair.

What will be your personal highlight of the upcoming Formnext?

I am particularly enthusiastic about the “Life-Changing” aspect, which the use of AM makes possible in a wide variety of places and applications. Each year, there are so many new things to discover for manufacturers and applications. The forward-looking results of the Purmundus Design Challenge or the refreshing ideas and products of the start-ups are always astounding. Enormous changes are taking place in the materials sector. Large materials groups such as BASF, Solvay, Mitsubishi Chemicals, Heraeus or Linde and Henkel have recognised a clear technology of the future in additive manufacturing and are going to Formnext with their own material areas and a variety of different materials in this market.

Moreover, the world of additive manufacturing is now becoming colourful. Plastic can now be printed or coloured in all imaginable colours. Multi-material printing in one process is also on the rise. The number of lasers in metal printing continues to increase, as does the printing speed and installation space, which are becoming larger and smaller overall, down to nano-scale structures. Big players like HP, for e.g., are also using metal printing in addition to plastic printing or vice versa. Pre and post-processing opens up new opportunities for many companies. It is this colourful bouquet of innovations, the rousing dynamism, the discussions, the atmosphere in the halls and being part of this fascinating community that I look forward to every year.