Feb 25, 2016 | By Alec

In a globalizing world, manufacturing is changing in every single way. Outsourcing often even makes it far cheaper without seriously affecting quality, so critics tend to say there’s no future for 3D printing beyond prototyping – actually manufacturing is supposedly commercially impossible with a costly 3D printer. However, several high tech industries, particularly aviation and aerospace, have found considerable successes with metal 3D printing and having even realized cost effective 3D printed engine parts, for example. To further develop that high quality, small batch production application, EU has been funding the Hyproline: a mass production line for metal 3D printed parts – and they have just successfully completed that project. Could this be the answer to reviving Western manufacturing?

For those of you who haven’t heard of this project, it started out with an EU Factories of the Future Program grant awarded in 2012, with formal development stopping in 2015. The Hyproline initiative was headed by TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and featured numerous other institutes and commercial partners, including fcubic AB, Swerea IVF, the Centre for Concepts in Mechatronics (CCM), ITI Transcendata Europe and the University of Birmingham.

And it’s objectives were ambitious: to develop a value-adding high performance 3D printing production line. It had to reduce time-to-market waiting, minimize the number of rejects and make customized and innovative products a manufacturing reality. The products also had to be 20 percent more accurate and save more than 30 percent in consumption than competing products. In short, a very challenging goal, and the researchers focused on developing a machine capable of producing up to 10,000 10 mm metal parts a day. The initiative also focused on three metals: Stainless Steel 316L, Titanium and Copper.

It sounds impossible, but the results are very impressive. The finished Hyproline 3D printer is essentially a carousel unit and integrated robot that circulates products on removable plates around the machine’s different functions. The robot picks and places non-finished components, extracts finished products and adds specific modules. The pallets pass underneath a 3D printer on a fixed Z-axis during manufacturing, which can print different parts onto different pallets in quick succession. The Hyproline is also fitted with a laser scanner that ensures that all parts are perfect copies of their CAD models, while a laser ablation module, polishes parts and removes any excess material.

It’s an extremely impressive and groundbreaking 3D printing production line, and the first of its kind. One of the biggest challenges they tackled was increasing the overall 3D printing quality, which they solved with CADfix’s scanning and CAD file comparison process. This system was developed by International TechneGroup Limited (ITI).

“CADfix is ideally suited for this type of additive manufacturing because of its flexible, closely linked representations of geometry, ranging from continuous CAD geometry to discrete facetted geometry, such as facets, slices or point clouds. Access to multiple forms of geometry enables CADfix to be applied very effectively to all aspects of the AM geometry process chain,” said Mark Gamon, product manager at ITI. “This endeavor was truly ground-breaking because of the high speed of laser polishing of the metal parts, combined with 3D scanning to produce multiple, unique parts in the same run on the same production line.”

The overall results certainly add extra value to existing manufacturing systems through the speed, quality and versatility with which the Hyproline creates parts. Importantly, even very small unique parts can be realized through a one-of-a-kind production mode. Now that it’s finished, its developers believe that the Hyproline could greatly enhance the competitive position of small and medium-sized European enterprises (or SMEs). “The concept was initially focused on SMEs in the electronics and aerospace industries, but has potential application in other industries that produce low volume, high precision metal parts,” said senior project manager at TNO Frits Feenstra. “We are excited about further developing this manufacturing platform to enable fully-integrated mass production of customized 3D printed products.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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