Oct 10, 2016 | By Alec

Many people have wondered why the very promising 3D printing industry hasn’t been more successful in drawing in established companies from various manufacturing sectors. The reality is that while numerous manufacturing giants are slowly adopting the technology, many smaller businesses are running into financial barriers that (at least in the short term) make 3D printing unattainable. Both knowledge and hardware are simply hugely expensive, limiting the proliferation of industrial-grade 3D printing.

But Dutch companies, mostly from the Rotterdam region, have found a very potent way around this obstacle. They are bundling their forces in the Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing lab (RAMLAB), sharing knowledge, expertise and hardware across sectors to facilitate new manufacturing, technological and material breakthroughs. Now including twenty-eight companies, the RAMLAB is working together with Valk Welding to explore a 3D printing welding robot. Could collaboration unleash the 3D printing revolution?

This initiative already involves prominent names such as Fokker Technologies and the Heerema Fabrication Group. Together with nearly two dozen other Dutch and international companies, research institutes and specialists, they are pioneering 3D printing applications with the Harbor of Rotterdam, RDM Makerspace and InnovationQuarter. While initially focusing on the maritime and harbor industries, RAMLAB has already grown into a cross-sectional fieldlab. RAMLAB is located at the Innovation Dock, part of the Innovation HotSpot RDM Rotterdam.

But rather than collaboratively focusing on single targets, the fieldlab essentially provides the knowledge and hardware necessary to pioneer new ideas without making huge investments. For while not every company might be focused on maritime spare part production, all can benefit from the same material and hardware knowledge – a cross-sectoral approach that is very attractive to all parties. “This conglomeration of expertise in the consortium facilitates rapid knowledge development, and it’s fantastic to build this up,” says Jacqueline Schardijn, Business Developer InnovationQuarter. “I only have to make a phone call to set up an appointment or get a reference. Those contacts are great for finding your way around a completely new field.”

For aviation manufacturer Fokker, 3D printing is especially attractive within the context of spare part production. Emmaly Sibbes, of Fokker’s Public Affairs department further referred to new construction opportunities focused on lighter, more sustainable and environmentally friendlier materials. “We’re interested in 3D printing very large components, from high quality metals such as titanium, as well,” she said.

But their knowledge, experience and networks also benefits other companies like Heerema, which is especially focusing on reducing costs and increasing production speed. “We have a lot of experience with welding, and we are now looking into the 3D printing of welding wires, rather than more expensive metal powders. We are also looking into increasing production speed, and the InnovationQuarter is helping us bring together the parties we need,” says Gert-Jan van Noordt. “It’s creating an wealth of ideas that need to be carefully evaluated.”

This cross-sectoral setting might even be the reason why the RAMLAB communal approach works. While many companies are open to sharing ideas and collaborating, it is much easier and more productive to do so with companies who aren’t direct competitors. “Just look at certification, which creates huge differences between aerospace and other sectors. This is educational for all parties involved,” says Sibbes. “The entire country benefits from these easy collaborations that facilitate innovation and development.”

RAMLAB is also focused on developing new technologies that can benefit all of their partners, and they have just entered a collaboration with Valk Welding for that very purpose. The goal is the development of a 3D welding robot, which would be a very welcome addition for many maritime sectors. It could enable on-location manufacturing, making it far easier to provide immediate maintenance.

Especially advantageous is the fact that such a machine could be combined with the currently-used Panasonic welding technology. Engineers from both Valk Welding and the RAMLAB are therefore closely collaborating to develop practical and open hardware. If successful, they could lift the entirety of Smart Industry 4.0 to the next level. It just underlines what can be achieved through collaboration.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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