The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen, Germany, has launched its futureAM focus project. The project will run for three years, during which six partners will work closely to significantly develop metal Additive Manufacturing. The other partners include five Fraunhofer Institutes (IFAM Bremen, IGD Darmstadt, ILT Aachen, IWS Dresden and IWU Chemnitz) plus Laser Zentrum Nord (LZN), set to become the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technology IAPT as of January 1, 2018.
A key aim of the focus project is to reduce the cost of metal additively manufactured parts. In addition, Fraunhofer ILT stated that it hopes to make it possible to overcome the current limitations on metal AM part size with the help of new plant design concepts.
On a wider scale, the research platform hopes to develop new digital process chains, scalable and robust AM processes, systems engineering and automation, as well as expanding the range of processable and affordable materials available.
The futureAM partners state that they will demonstrate the practicality of their innovations through the production of real components. Currently, a multi-material AM steering knuckle is planned, for which the partners will integrate all of the steps in the process chain, from designing/redesigning the component, producing it by Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and setting up the support structures with laser metal deposition technology, to removing them automatically and post-processing the component.
During the project, LZN will be responsible for Industry 4.0 and digital process chains, as will the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD. The Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS will work together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM on a reinforcing structure made of a second high-strength material.
Finally, system technology and automation for the post-processing of components will be the responsibility of the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU. Fraunhofer ILT stated that its role in the project will be ensure that the resulting AM processes are scalable and robust.
Strengthening Germany’s position in metal AM
Through the futureAM project, Fraunhofer ILT and its partners stated that they hope to further strengthen Germany’s position as a key centre for the AM industry. The project partners defined four fields of activity in which they plan to secure Germany’s ‘technological edge’:
1. Industry 4.0 and digital process chains
2. Scalable and robust AM processes
4. System technology and automation
Digital twins in the Virtual Lab
To drive production process optimisation, the project partners plan to cooperate in a Virtual Lab, offering a closed digital map of the competences and equipment of each participating institute, with the aim to completely digitise the process chain and accelerate the AM process by “a factory of 10.”
In the Virtual Lab, every machine and product will be assigned a ‘digital twin’ – a virtual representation of the production process which compares ideal conditions with reality, in real-time, and suggests changes to achieve the perfect result. This is expected to enable better error diagnosis, predictive analysis and process optimisation through modelling and simulation.
According to a statement from Fraunhofer ILT, “The role of humans is changing, moving away from today’s central planning to the decision-making and monitoring.” Autonomous systems within the Virtual Lab will support the staff on location with suitable evaluation and monitoring tools, thus providing digital transparency.