Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, delineates the layer-by-layer structuring of components using virtual 3D data. Dr Kristian Arntz, head of the Fraunhofer IPT's "Laser Material Processing" department, explains the challenges of additive technologies and what the Fraunhofer IPT can do to support companies that want to enter the market.
What are the most important characteristics that companies should consider when using additive manufacturing processes?
The layer-by-layer structuring allows for a very high geometric freedom: tree-like structures, hollow spaces or inlying grid structures can be generated by using additive processes, in order to manufacture light and durable components, for instance. However, the variety of materials, precision and surface quality of the components are relatively low, leading to a limited use. The efficiency of the processes depends on the size, material and geometry of the components. Simply put, the simpler and bigger the component, the less profitable is 3D printing. As soon as the required quantities increase, additive processes are clearly at a disadvantage. New developments are going to reduce this shortcoming, however, quantities in accordance with the automobile industry are hardly achievable. Also, eco-friendliness cannot clearly be varified since it requires a costly processing of the source materials and a high energy input after all.