Foot off the Brake!

The additive manufacturing industry is entering a period of accelerated growth. As the machines become more economically viable, 3D printing is being ­adopted across manufacturing, particularly in automobility and aerospace.

October, 2018

In January 2018, a small but significant world record was set in Hamburg. Bugatti, the Volkswagen-owned luxury sports car manufacturer, with help from Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer institute, made the largest brake caliper the automotive industry has ever seen. For motoring ­enthusiasts that in itself was a massive achievement, but the caliper also happened to be the largest functional titanium component and the first brake caliper of any kind to be produced by additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing as it is more commonly known – is becoming more widespread and more economically viable for industrial usage. It has come a long way from chess pieces: there are now a plethora of viable products produced in this way, from dentures, body parts and bikinis, to essential industrial components like parts for airplanes.

Germany is one of the leading additive manufacturing (AM) markets in the world right now: a market that is forecast to create significant value and is attracting investors from all over the world. 37 percent of German companies already use AM. The machinery and equipment sector (a traditional German stronghold) is increasingly looking at 3D solutions from both the supply and demand side. The clamor from customers for the kind of tailored machine parts that only a 3D printer can produce easily grows by the day. To match the rising demand, machine manufacturers are turning out cost-effective and efficient machines for faster printing.

Thanks to 3D printing, it was possible to individually customize the radiator hoods of the motorcycles used in the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy Central Asia 2018. The CAD data was enhanced with the names and start numbers of the drivers and then printed using additive manufacturing

© Formlabs, Inc.

$7.8bn

Projected value of the AM industry in 2018 – equivalent to 21% growth

Germany leads in 3D printing

Oliver Sorkin, vice president Europe at Formlabs, an American 3D printing company with an office in Berlin, explains why Germany is capable of meeting the demand. “Three factors are always critical in Germany,” he says. “Firstly, Germany is a place for manufacturing, both for hardware generally, and specifically in the field of medicine. Secondly, a large number of our customers, CAD/CAM users in advanced dental technologies, are in Germany. And last but not least, the conveyor belt of talent in Germany, together with the world-renowned universities and education institutions make Germany a hub in central Europe.”

The two industries that are set to be revolutionized by 3D printing according to EY are aerospace and automobility: industries in which Germany is traditionally strong. Aerospace, which demands ever-lighter, more geometrically complex parts in ever-­smaller batches, has become an early adopter of the technology. The auto industry’s take-up of AM is projected to increase from $365.4m in 2015 to $1.8bn in 2023, resulting in a staggering 19.51 percent Capital Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Other industries will also benefit from the infinite versatility that 3D printing methods offer. “The advances in prototyping, where we began, to low-volume production, small-batch manufacturing and mass customization is relevant to all industry sectors and is growing proportionately across all markets,” Sorkin points out.

New age of manufacturing

Bugatti’s achievement earlier this year was to a large degree enabled by the R&D activities of the Fraunhofer IAPT in Hamburg. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Fraunhofer research family is a major stakeholder in the growth of additive manufacturing R&D. The Fraunhofer Additive Manufacturing Alliance brings together 17 institutes throughout Germany and along the additive manufacturing process chain.

For a young industry, 3D printing “has come a long way in a remarkably short space of time,” comments Max Milbredt, GTAI expert for additive ­manufacturing. “Achievements such as Bugatti’s caliper, or statistics in surveys such as the recent VDMA finding that nearly every other machine-building company is using 3D-printed parts, show this.” He believes the technology is on course to fundamentally transform manufacturing processes. “On the current trajectory, it seems that additive manufacturing is not only useful to end-product consumers, but also approaching readiness for industrial usage, which would be a huge business opportunity.”

The product

Formlab’s Form 2 3D printer delivers high-resolution parts at a fraction of the cost of industrial printers and with a small carbon footprint. © Formlabs, Inc.