Image credits: Stratasys

Additive Manufacturing: New Manufacturing Frontier

By Alejandro Enríquez | Sun, 09/26/2021 - 20:06

Around 10 percent of today's manufacturing processes are expected to be replaced by additive manufacturing by 2030. Manufacturers expect 6.7 million 3D printers to get shipped over the duration of 2020 alone, according to McKinsey. The firm estimates that the technology is halfway to its mass adoption across different sectors, automotive included.

“Overall, this technology would be most beneficial for companies in the aerospace and heavy-vehicle markets that work with small production volumes, substituting molds for direct manufacturing especially in rapidly changing or highly customable environments," said Sebastián Romo, CEO of Tridi, a Mexican 3D printing manufacturing company to MBN.

Additive manufacturing can be known as 3D printing, which is basically the application of plastics, metal or ceramics to make objects from a 3D model, traditionally layer upon layer. The technology levels up manufacturing capabilities by allowing broader design possibilities, customized products, production at point and on-demand, higher levels of material and energy efficiency, as well as reduced dependency from OEMs on suppliers' locations. "Renishaw and many other companies are producing a large number of prototypes using additive manufacturing and developing testing. Even Tier 1s and aerospace giants such as Airbus and Boeing are betting on additive manufacturing and they have generated many R&D initiatives," Director General of Renishaw Mexico Alejandro Silva told MBN.

Some of the cons that have prevented additive manufacturing solutions from reaching the mass market are the quality of materials and the high-cost of the additive manufactured components. Material quality is key in additive manufacturing processes to ensure component performance and some companies have specifically focused on addressing the opportunity areas that raw materials offer in 3D manufacturing. Humberto Ramos, CEO HT-MX, highlighted, during an interview with MBN, porosity as a characteristic of everything that is 3D printed, which has an impact on the resistance a component can have against mechanical forces. “That is where we come in. Part of the goal behind implementing hot isostatic pressing was to be prepared for the shift toward additive manufacturing. This shift might take a while but by the time a company finishes developing these parts, we will be ready with a proven process that has the certifications required," said Ramos.

Automotive Investments in Additive Manufacturing

There are several initiatives from Tier 1s and OEMs efforts to further the adoption of additive manufacturing in automotive applications. 3D Systems, the oldest additive manufacturing company in the US, is focused not only on the additive production of components for the health and industrial sector, but also on manufacturing 3D printers. Recently, the publicly traded company introduced Accura AMX Rigid Black, a resin that will facilitate the manufacturing of large, structural, load-bearing parts for a variety of markets including automotive. This material was product of a partneship with Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR), the racing branch of the world's largest automaker by volume. 

“Accura AMX Rigid Black allows us to deliver larger, complex SLA production parts, including full-scale manufacturing aids. We recently used the material to develop 3D printed fixtures for stabilizing larger automotive components for CNC milling," said Alexander Liebold, Group Leader of Production Engineering and Future Technologies at TGR, on a statement. The new material reduced production time and costs by 90 percent and 60 percent, respectively, when compared to the previous processes used in a 40-part batch. "Now we can turn around any large-scale part and be confident it will perform as required, for as long as we need. This is a real game-changer for production manufacturing," he said.

The two largest Tier 1 automotive suppliers in the world by revenue in 2019 are also investing and acquiring companies and projects dedicated to scale additive manufacturing solutions. Bosch, the largest Tier 1 by revenue with US$46.56 billion in 2019, has a subsidiary specially committed to this type of process: Bosch Industrial Additive Manufacturing, which focuses solely on plastic parts. "With our unique technology, we are able to produce small series of industrial plastic parts with injection molding quality. By combining the benefits of both technologies, 3D printing and injection molding, we reduce development time and costs. Prototype samples and parts in small series production can now be produced faster, with more flexibility and cost-efficiency," said the Germany-based company. Bosch Rexroth, meanwhile is Bosch's subsidiary focused on producing small component batches and prototypes with metal additive manufacturing applications.

"Robert Bosch lives off innovation. We are one of the greatest players in the automotive industry in this regard. We register the most patents in the industry, at a rate of one every half an hour. That is our strength," told René Schlegel, CEO of Robert Bosch Mexico, to MBN.

Denso, the second largest Tier 1 company by revenue in 2019 with US$41.81 billion, has also accelerated its ventures in additive manufacturing capabilities. During 3Q21, the company announced a "heavy" investment in Seurat Technologies of Massachusetts. “Seurat’s printing technology is a breakthrough, one that dramatically accelerates additive manufacturing production rates. We look forward to helping them develop it further," said Raja Shembekar, Vice President of Denso’s North America Production Innovation Center. This venture is focused on the mass production of metal components for a variety of industries. Seurat’s Area Printing™ technology allows manufacturers to print metal parts at scale, combining unprecedented speed, precision, part integrity and reliability, while still being cost effective. The total amount of the investment has not been disclosed, according to the company’s release.

Siemens has also shared with MBN its investments in the sector. "Siemens has invested more than €500 million (US$610 million) to test additive manufacturing alongside our customers. This segment has been growing for many years now and we have used these technologies since 2012 in the production of energy and railway spare parts. We have over 200 components for energy generation coming from additive manufacturing that are printed on-site, saving a lot of resources and time," Alejandro Preinfalk, CEO of Siemens Mexico and Central America, told MBN.

Smart Manufacturing, 5G Enabling Additive Manufacturing Technologies

The development of additive manufacturing solutions goes hand in hand with other technology developments, particularly material science innovations, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), as well as 5G networks for private applications. When imagining additive manufacturing operations in a 5G context, the real advantage is in precision monitoring and control. The network will allow to reduce defect rates by 10 percent, improving machine performance by recognizing cycle speeds and thus improving machine productivity by 15 percent, reducing resin spent and consequently increasing the lifetime of the equipment, as previously reported by MBN.

Additive manufacturing is a development that can strongly advance greater levels of digitalization. Argenis Bauza, Digital Lighthouse Partner Mexico and Central America at KPMG, explains that for a manufacturing company there are four types of influx: material, information, cash and relationships. "In Latin America, we are focused on material flux but information flux remains important not only in the form of market intelligence but also in new technologies. An information flux can imply sending the file of a spare part to be printed at our customers facilities in a remote location,” said Bauza during Mexico Automotive Summit.

Photo by:   Stratasys
Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst