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What is additive manufacturing? Relevance, application areas, trends, advantages and challenges

Additive manufacturing, also often referred to as 3D printing, continues to gain relevance across a wide range of industries. In the following interview with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Katrin Wudy, we clarify questions about the definition, fields of application, current industry trends, advantages and challenges.

employees discussing in production hall

 

What is Additive Manufacturing Processes?

In additive manufacturing processes, a component is created layer by layer by successive addition of material. This is in contrast to subtractive or formative manufacturing processes, in which the material is removed or a component is shaped or formed by applying pressure.

Where are additive manufacturing processes used so far?

The range of current applications for additive manufacturing processes spans a wide variety of industries – aerospace, energy, medical, construction. It is currently expected that in the future the range of applications of additive processes can be further expanded, especially since these processes work with a much lower material input and thus make an important contribution to climate protection.

What are the current trends in this area (e.g. new materials, new manufacturing processes, new application areas)?

There are currently a large number of research efforts in all three areas – new materials, new manufacturing processes and innovative applications. The fundamental question is always: How can individualized products with highly complex, integrated functionalities be manufactured economically? This requires partly new processes and also unprecedented materials, such as 4D materials.

What are the greatest advantages of Additive Manufacturing?

In particular, the component complexity that can be represented makes completely new approaches to component design possible. This means that not only load-optimized structural components can be manufactured, but also highly individualized products, such as an implant perfectly adapted to the patient. In addition, no component-specific tools, such as molds, are required. This can greatly reduce time-to-market and component costs.

What are the main challenges of Additive Manufacturing?

Particularly with powder bed-based processes, both the manufacturing equipment and the starting material involve high investment costs. Thus, additive manufacturing processes are not yet economical compared to conventional technologies, especially for larger volumes.

Why is Additive Manufacturing becoming more relevant in the industrial manufacturing sector?

If you look, for example, at current efforts to make aircraft and motor vehicles more sustainable, there is a strong focus on the issue of energy consumption in operation, i.e. fuel consumption or consumption of electrical energy. Among other factors, this energy consumption depends on the weight of the respective means of transport. In the case of components that have been strongly optimized for their weight, conventional manufacturing processes reach their limits due to the high component complexity. This is precisely the point at which the technology is already being used today. This area will continue to gain in importance in the future.

What is the relevance of Additive Manufacturing for SMEs?

Additive manufacturing is particularly suitable for lower volumes in the small and medium series sector. For these quantities, SMEs in particular are suppliers to OEMs. By using additive manufacturing, these SMEs can expand their own product portfolios and thus increase their own attractiveness.

The topic of sustainability: What contribution does Additive Manufacturing make?

I have already addressed the point of reducing fuel consumption through lightweight construction. In addition, compared to conventional processes, production can be carried out using less material. Nevertheless, we are working in the field of additive manufacturing to make these technologies even more resource-efficient by reducing the overall energy rate while at the same time increasing productivity.

How can I as a company assess whether it is a relevant technology for me?

In order to be able to assess whether additive manufacturing is worthwhile in one’s own company, you must first have a precise knowledge of the different processes and their advantages and disadvantages. It is important to understand the entire process chain from digital component creation to the final use of the component. Above all, personal experience with the process chain is helpful for this. For this reason, we have also created the Additive Manufacturing Certification Program.

 


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