In May 2017, aerostructures supplier Premium Aerotec (Augsburg, Germany), automaker Daimler (Stuttgart, Germany), and additive manufacturing technology provider EOS (Krailling, Germany) jointly initiated the NextGenAM project to develop the basis of a future system for series production using 3D printing technologies. Now, the first pilot plant has been put into operation at Premium Aerotec's Varel, Germany location.
The goal of the project is to develop a complete production cell capable of manufacturing aluminum components for the automotive and aerospace industries. The pilot facility currently consists of various machines for additive manufacturing, post-processing, and quality assurance. The innovation about the production chain is that the individual steps and the interaction of all additive and conventional process steps are fully automated and integrated. As a result, complex, lightweight, and robust components can be manufactured and the high level of automation forms the basis for profitable production going forward.
The center of the pilot production chain is the EOS M 400-4 four-laser system for industrial 3D printing with metal materials. The system is used in combination with the peripheral solutions of the EOS Shared-Modules concept. The EOS M 400-4 in Varel is equipped with a powder station and connected to a standalone setup and unpacking station. As a result, filling and emptying the system with the aluminum material, setting up the system to prepare a new build job, and unpacking the built components from the powder bed can be carried out independently of and parallel to the actual additive manufacturing process. The additively manufactured components are transported between the individual stations fully automated and under protective gas in a container on an automated guided vehicle.
The downstream post-processing has also been extensively automated. First, a robot takes the build platform with the parts from the setup station and places it in a furnace for subsequent heat treatment. The same robot then removes the platform again and takes it to a 3D optical measurement system for quality assurance purposes. Finally, the build platform is conveyed to a saw, which separates the parts from the platform to make the components ready for further use.
In the coming months, the pilot process chain will be further tested at the technology center in Varel and parts of the facility will be audited. In addition, production data will be collected and analyzed with the aim of collating precise data on process times, profitability, and cost optimization. The NextGenAM project is therefore moving continuously closer to its goal of producing highly complex aluminum components in series production in a particularly economical additive manufacturing process.