From medical implants to vehicle bodywork

Industrial 3-D printing is no longer a vision for the future. The technology is ready for commercialisation. At NORTEC, held from 26 to 29 January 2016 at the Hamburg fair site, the so-called additive manufacturing method will be among the highlights. The trade fair of the manufacturing industry in northern Germany will feature a special exhibition presenting current applications and the future potential of this innovative technology. Next-generation industrial 3-D printers as well as control software, fascinating new applications and the actual results of additive manufacturing will all be on display.

The most spectacular showpiece of the 3-D printing special exhibition will be a sports car called "Light Cocoon", the first car with a body partially made by a 3-D printer. The external skin of this prototype resembles a spider web. The bodywork does not consist of a coherent sheet metal surface but is supported by a complex network structure resembling biological objects such as the leaves of a tree or the wings of a bat.

The "Light Cocoon" body is covered by a weather-resistant textile skin. This bionic design offers a number of advantages: It requires substantially less material, is much lighter than conventional bodywork, and thereby lowers fuel consumption. It can be manufactured entirely without the use of tools since the load-bearing structure of this bionic design is created in an additive process. The "Light Cocoon" concept study was realised jointly by the vehicle developer EDAG, Laser Zentrum Nord LZN of Hamburg, and several companies specialising in 3-D printing.

Airbus uses 3-D printed components

"Today industrial 3-D printing is primarily used in the medical equipment and aerospace industries, " explains Professor Dr Claus Emmelmann, CEO of the LZN and head of the Department of Laser and Plant System Engineering at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. He speaks of 3-D printing as an "industrial revolution" and a paradigm of "Industrie 4.0", a German national project to support digital interlinking of product development, production, logistics and customers.

The LZN has developed a method for three-dimensional printing of complex metal aircraft parts, such as small fasteners for fitting cabin components. Roughly 15, 000 of these fasteners are installed on board a single passenger airplane. Manufactured using the additive process, these components provide the same strength as conventional fasteners while weighing significantly less. The Airbus A350 XWB already relies on LZN technology today. And it does so successfully: In spite of higher part production costs, the overall product benefits from significant savings and higher quality. For this manufacturing technology the LZN received the 2015 German Future Award from the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Special exhibition presents practical applications and new technology

The LZN's special exhibition intends to demonstrate the advantages of industrial 3-D printing in a tangible form. Visitors will be able to see components designed and manufactured using the additive process, as well as examples of medical products such as implants. In addition, well-known suppliers will present the latest 3-D printer and scanner models, along with innovative software solutions. All in all roughly 20 companies from all over Germany will showcase current trends in 3-D printing, including TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik, the global market and technology leader in industrial laser equipment and systems, SLM Solutions, dokuteam Nordwest, Krause DiMaTec, Altair Engineering and ABU Fertigungstechnik.

The laser equipment manufacturer TRUMPF will exhibit their new 3-D printer TruPrint 1000 at NORTEC. This machine uses the Laser Metal Fusion process. "The market introduction of innovative 3-D printers is an important first step for us since additive manufacturing will not only complement the manufacturing technology of the future but play a decisive role, " explains Dr Peter Leibinger, Vice Chairman of TRUMPF Laser- und Systemtechnik GmbH. "We will deliver robust and highly productive equipment for manufacturing small to medium-sized components with complex shapes, " Leibinger continues.

SLM Solutions will present equipment such as their SLM 280 HL laser smelting plant. SLM's best-selling machine, a 700 W unit, is currently the fastest and most powerful device of its kind, offering features such as smelting pool control and laser power measurement. "As a Light Alliance member, SLM Solutions will be represented in several areas of the exhibition and be actively involved in the accompanying conference programme. We are expecting a scientifically highly focused, well-informed audience from the aerospace sector and are looking forward to a truly inspiring event, " says Stefan Ritt, Vice President and Head of Global Marketing and Communications at SLM Solutions.

NORTEC Forum to highlight strategies for the future

The NORTEC Forum will likewise address this innovative manufacturing method, its underlying theories and their relevance for modern production. On Wednesday 27 January, the Forum will focus on the topic "Digitalization and 3-D Printing". Experts will provide insights into current applications and describe strategies for profitable deployment of 3-D laser technology and its integration into existing value chains, up to and including the development of completely new business models.

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