The NextGenAM project was established in 2017 with the aim to develop a pilot production line powered by an automated additive manufacturing (AM) workflow. Specifically, the partners were targeting the production of aluminium components for the automotive and aerospace industries, while Scalmalloy has also been under consideration.
Replacement parts for Daimler have already been produced using the automated workflow at Premium Aerotec, while the participants have reported that the use of the NextGenAM production line can reduce manufacturing cost by ‘up to 50% compared to existing 3D printing systems.’
The NextGenAM production line is automated from data preparation and powder supply to the machine to heat treatment, quality assurance, and part removal. All of these steps are self-ran with no interference from human operators. Every piece of technology used is part of the same network, data being transmitted to the control station where decision are made to prioritise and allocate build requests to an additive manufacturing system. In the NextGenAM production line, the AM platform is an EOS M400-4, and driverless transport systems and robots are responsible for moving parts along the line. As the build commences, users can track progress on a mobile device, and once the entire process is complete, quality reports are passed back to the control station.
“We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve in collaboration with our partners, Premium Aerotec and Daimler,” commented Adrian Keppler, CEO of EOS. “The NextGenAM project has provided a very tangible demonstration of how industrial 3D printing can be used cost-effectively in series production as part of an automated process chain. In combination with the possibilities for digitalisation as used here, the pilot plant represents nothing less than a milestone along the way to digital manufacturing.”
The NextGenAM partners say the line can be duplicated in order to expand the capacity of the plant. So far, a replacement bracket for a truck diesel engine has been manufactured for Daimler – requests for replacement bus parts are also currently being examined at Daimler Buses’ Centre of Competence for 3D printing – but the participants believe the system is capable of achieving series production too. To date, all quality checks of the automated production line have been passed, and now preparation has begun to audit it in line with the VDA 6.3 German automotive industry standard, one of the prerequisites at Daimler to supply series-production components.
Through the development of this automated additive production set-up, the NextGenAM project is aiming to speed up the implementation of additive technologies for end-use parts, starting in the vertical markets they know best, and hoping to inspire others to follow suit. It has sought to supplement the standard advantages 3D printing has, like the ability to lightweight products and tackle complex geometries, by making the process more efficient from design file to finished part.
“As far as the aircraft industry is concerned, Premium Aerotec is today already an international pioneer in the field of metallic 3D printing,” said Thomas Ehm, Chairman of the Executive Board of premium Aerotec. “The aim is now to build further on this expertise and to bring it to bear in other sectors as well. The successful conclusion of NextGenAM thus represents another important building block in our strategy.”
“Additive manufacturing is also suitable for smallest-series production of new vehicles (limited editions),” added Jasmin Eichler, Head of Future Technologies at Daimler AG. “Systematic development of the parts specifically for 3D printing means that the production costs can be further reduced and the quality optimised. 3D printing also makes particular sense during the advance development of vehicles. The low numbers required can often be produced more cost-effectively, and faster, with additive manufacturing than with conventional production processes.”