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Additive Manufacturing: its Disruptive Impact on Industrial Production

A broader public knows Additive Manufacturing as 3-D printing and associates it with 3-D selfies, little perfectly scaled miniature statues rendered after a complete body scan by adding layer after layer of cross sections across a bed of powder. In 2014, Barack Obama became the first 3-D-printed president when a bust made by 3-D printing was added to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery. What many people are still unaware of is that Additive Manufacturing is already being implemented in industrial production. It is now possible to 3-D print gas burners, customized glove compartments and spare parts for airplanes.

In my position as Vice President of Additive Manufacturing at Siemens Digital Industries I drive and promote the technology with a team of AM experts in Erlangen, operating an AMEC (Additive Manufacturing Experience Center) for all relevant technologies. I earned a physics PHD in material science, so I have a firm grasp of the metallurgic process and headed several internal start-ups at Siemens before. Already during my time at Siemens Energy back in 2013 I worked closely with the colleagues in Sweden. They started repairing hot gas parts by employing Additive Manufacturing. This is when I first realized the revolutionary character of AM technologies and its effects on the entire production of industrial goods.

At Siemens, we have an outstanding portfolio, which holistically supports this transformation of the manufacturing sector. The fact that we have welcomed more than 4000 customers in this AM Experience Center in 18 months shows that we have really struck a chord and succeed in grasping the related production processes in detail. 

Siemens’ Additive Manufacturing portfolio

Beyond our Siemens in-house additive production experience, our AM product portfolio spans over

  • CAD, CAM and CAE software for generative engineering
  • machine equipment for OEMs like Beam or EOS 
  • value added services in production, finance and IoT consulting as well as many additional aspects
Convenstionally designed gas burner (left) and digitally optimized design for AM.

AM use case: gas burners

It has already proven advantageous to use this portfolio in Additive Manufacturing for the production of gas burner components. Existing assets can be modernized quickly and do not need complete replacement. Having produced more than 1400 burner fronts with AM, my colleagues at Siemens in Sweden have now made AM a positive business case. In an exemplary gas turbine 30 of these components are built in. In conventional production the burner front consists of 13 parts, which need to be measured, welded together and tested. They can be reduced to a single work piece in Additive Manufacturing. With AM the total development lead time of 26 weeks is reduced to 3 weeks.

AM in serial industrial production

In industrial production, the prospect of additive techniques has been discussed since the 1990s. The OEM EOS recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. The technology has reached its maturity phase in the past few years, but the ideas and the companies who built up AM have existed for more than two decades. What is completely new is that we are starting to break away from single pieces and prototypes and moving from the tech center into serial production.

HP 3-D printer for Additive Manufacturing of small to medium parts in the Additive Manufacturing Experience Center (AMEC) in Erlangen

Digital software tools have made this development possible. 10 years ago, this degree of customization and digitally pre-simulated design would not have been possible. The new software tools enable the engineer, as in natural evolution, to play through thousands of concrete scenarios. Like this, a function-driven optimization of the design can be reached in accordance with parameters like optimal cooling, optimal rigidity, optimal flow rate and optimal temperature distribution.

Realizing new functionalities with AM

It is even possible to realize new functionalities with Additive Manufacturing. A construction engineer could not have drilled holes around the corner. Today the engineer does not have to design the work piece anymore, he can merely set the framework and basic parameters, the software is the designer.

Additive Manufacturing serves customization of industrial goods

I am wearing shoes with 3D-printed soles. Function-driven design makes it possible to realize complex lattice structure, which have a different degree of flexibility at the heel than at the tip. In the future you can customize the product design to your individual needs. In the end, you just send an image of your foot scan to a digital marketplace like our AM Network and have your shoes printed by a producer of choice.

I follow this trend towards customization in orthopedics, medical products, the dental industry, surgical aids and artificial joints. Today there are companies that successfully offer you 3-D printed customized artificial hip replacements, implants and prostheses. When you order a Mini from BMW you can have your individual glove compartment 3-D-printed.

Additive Manufacturing: a positive business case

Today, it is difficult to efficiently run a gas-fired power plant without AM. AM applications make for that little bit more efficiency that pays off in the long run. Even if AM processes are still more costly to start out with, we have to look at the business case over the entire lifecycle of produced goods. AM products are up to 60% lighter than conventional products. When you just replace all buckles of an Airbus aircraft by 3D-printed versions, the kerosene saving due to reduced weight is considerable, making for an enduring reduction of GHG emissions and increased sustainability.

Additive Manufacturing has a positive environmental effect

  • AM is resource-friendly as there are no residual chips from the manufacturing process
  • AM can optimize work pieces, for example their cooling cycles, maximize performance and use less energy
  • Think of spare parts for the train industry or old-timer automobiles. With AM, they can be made to order at the closest production facility rather than spending considerable resources on logistics and storage

AM reduces cost and time-to-market in product development. A spray cast form is expensive. With 3D-printing you can produce a prototype overnight and reduce developmental processes from months to weeks and even days. Like this, innovation cycles are accelerated even if the product is later conventionally produced with injection molding. And if a client needs last minute changes to a design, this can be easily executed with the push of a button without having to import and export these adaptions across various software tools.

Siemens DI offers integrated software and automation solutions

While Siemens does produce some industrial goods with Additive Manufacturing itself, the focus of Digital Industries lies on integrated software and automation solutions that span over the entire value chain. Additionally, we support machine developments with digital software tools and enable the monitoring of subsequent production processes with cloud-based IoT-technology.

Furthermore, it is our mission to enable the end customer to use one backbone system for the entire design management. We bring additive manufacturing from the realm of prototyping in the tech center to full-blown serial production with all the automation involved and the software tools to enable digital transformation: edge, cloud, Mindsphere and AI.

Currently, Siemens has more than 100 AM machines in service. Many learnings from the operation of these machines we pass on to our clients in form of improved products. Whether there is a positive business case for AM regarding a specific production is a matter of thorough calculations and customers co-creation. The good thing is that Siemens is the partner of choice in many fields, so it can help the customer decide whether he/she wants to build up design competence or execute actual 3D-printing.

The Additive Manufacturing Network: Siemens’ global industrial marketplace

With the AM Network Siemens offers a tool that can manage globally distributed networks of manufacturers, part buyers and others. This is a breakthrough in efficiency and has a resounding impact on GHG emission reduction and the overall sustainability of the manufacturing sector. The designer of a product can choose the nearest most suitable producer for her/his commission and let one supplier print a metal work piece today while ordering an HP printed polymer part from another supplier tomorrow. 

The AM Network enables new business models like licensing of digital product designs. This collaborative marketplace digitally connects the whole ecosystem of the AM community and enables expert discussions. It holds vital certification information for aerospace applications and intelligently determines the printability of a given design.

AM as disruptive technology for industrial production

So today, the possibilities of 3-D printing already go way beyond getting that little 3-D selfie statue of yourself to replace a photo portrait, there is a vast array of Additive Manufacturing applications in industrial production, which are implementable today, and AM will have a disruptive impact on the industry for the years to come. 

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on this blog. Do you have questions about Additive Manufacturing? Can you share some of your use case experiences? How do you see the future of the manufacturing sector and its digital transformation with future technologies like Additive Manufacturing?

Meet me at FORMNEXT for more information!