All the signs are that additive manufacturing is currently undergoing a paradigm shift towards series production on an industrial scale. But new, more economical machine concepts are required. The challenges are digitization and automation and interlinking of the machines through to the creation of a smart factory.
Following the basic idea of Industry 4.0, executives at Concept Laser unveiled an integrated, modular machine concept they call “AM Factory of Tomorrow.” Noted Oliver Edelmann at Concept Laser, “The modular integration of the machine technology into the manufacturing environment is amazing thanks to a radically new approach in the design of process components. Ultimately, this makes faster and more economic industrial production solutions available. The new machine design will be commercially available at the end of 2016.”
With the latest machine architecture from Concept Laser, any number of the individual machines can be linked together, thus creating fully automated machine networks that “communicate” with one another and with corresponding peripheral devices. Additive and conventional technologies will also be automated and linked together, in particular in the reworking of the parts that are created. Traditional manufacturing methods will then go hand in hand with additive methods.
The new machine architecture is characterized essentially by decoupling of “pre-production,” “production” and “post-processing.” This includes, among other things, flexible machine loading and physical separation of the setting-up and disarming processes. The objective of the development was to coordinate the process components in a more targeted way with interfaces and increase the flexibility of the process design to create an integrated approach. This becomes possible thanks to a consistent modular structure of “handling stations” and “build and process units” which, in terms of combination and interlinking, promises considerably greater flexibility and availabilities. Thanks to the new machine architecture, current machine downtimes, resulting from manual processes such as supplying metal powder or reworking the parts, will be reduced to a minimum. This will deliver considerable time and cost savings.
But it is not just the interaction between the machines but also the “technological inner workings” of the new machine that display numerous innovations and even world firsts, such as the automatic tool changing system or the new, time-saving coating strategy.