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The nozzle of the 3D printer moves slowly over the surface and creates a slow trace of blue plastic filament, which hardens immediately. Layer by layer the nozzle moves back and forth, layer by layer the surface slowly descends, the 3D structure grows up. Support structures surround the delicate mesh of plastic threads. The nozzle works like a small hot-melt glue gun - this is how fused deposition modeling printing was also invented: Scott Crump, founder of the 3D printing company Stratasys, simply wanted to make a plastic frog for his daughter in his garage using a hot-melt glue gun - and invented the FDM process.
28 years have passed since then, and additive manufacturing has long since arrived in the industry. A total of 24% of the companies have already had experience with the technology, according to a survey of 900 companies from selected countries, carried out by the audit and consulting company EY. The Germans are the leaders: 37% of all companies have already used 3D printers here, and a further 12% plan to use them. This is also noticeable in sales: 1 billion euros were implemented throughout Germany with 3D products. Where does the high level of interest in Germany come from? Andreas Müller from EY explains: “3D printing is made for the innovative German economy. The technology allows companies to manufacture smaller quantities and cheaper prototypes and to use new materials.”
Series products from the 3D printer
The technology is still used most frequently for prototyping: the first prototype can be printed out of the CAD model in a few hours. Companies also use 3D printing for the production of spare parts - Deutsche Bahn, for example, prints spare parts to save repair costs. And for series production? In fact, companies are already using additive manufacturing for this, and Germany is also a leader here - if only with 5.5% of all companies. One company that already uses 3D printing for production today is Airbus. In a specially built production hall in Friesland, the aircraft manufacturer z. B. Pipe elbow and cabin holder made of titanium. Lightweight bearings are also manufactured additively today:With the help of laser sintering, Franke, for example, produces its wire roller bearings, which are characterized by a light, bionic inner structure. However, Asian countries in particular are planning to catch up: For the next five years, 56% of companies in China and South Korea want to manufacture series products with the 3D printer.
Nevertheless, many companies are still hesitant about 3D printing. Most hesitant companies shy away from the high implementation costs or complain about the lack of expertise in their own company. Nevertheless, Müller from EY assumes that the trend towards additive manufacturing will continue to increase. 3D printing providers could remedy the costs and the lack of specialist knowledge, which particularly discourages smaller companies: "This means that smaller companies do not have to finance the technology and expertise themselves and can order parts whenever they need them", explains Müller.
If production with 3D technologies continues to increase, especially in production, the production locations could also change - 43% of all German companies expect that 3D printing will increasingly shift production back into Germany or that production be outsourced to service providers. The Association 3D Printing e. V. speaks of the sustainable design of the logistics processes: "Where spare parts have to be transported around the world today, soon only data could be transported." It is also possible that completely new production concepts will develop in connection with digitization and Industry 4.0 - how about a fully automatic 3D factory?
So far, much has been done by hand. After the printer is finished a few hours later, the support structures are carefully broken away from the still warm component. Then the 3D printed gear is ready for use.
How two 3D printers could change production
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