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20. March 2018

Additive Manufacturing – A technique which can be applied perfectly in the foundry industry

Additive Manufacturing – A technique which can be applied perfectly in the foundry industry

Foundry-Planet (FP) interview with Dr. Ingo Ederer (CEO, Voxeljet)


FP: 
Dr. Ederer, where do you stand with your company today? You are not only one of the main inventors of the technology, but also the founder of Voxeljet. What are some keywords to describe how the technology has developed in recent years?

Dr. Ederer:
We started with our technology at the TU in Munich. At that time, we were working on a small scale, but could already see the scope of possibilities and applications. In the meantime, the whole thing has come very far. For the automotive industry, this technology has become the standard procedure for pilot series development and prototype construction. For many suppliers, it is also a standard procedure for their pre-series parts. The process has also grown and branched out from the automotive industry into other industries, and now in the sand sector - it’s hard to imagine it without 3D printing. For many, it is the main planned production tool when it comes to smaller sizes or quantities. Complex components can be generated with it, and we see automobile mass production coming in the near future.

FP:
With the focus now on the use of additive manufacturing in sand, specifically sand molds and cores - are there any favorite examples from customers you could name where you are particularly strong? One could say Augsburg is at the center of additive manufacturing in Europe or even the world; how do you differentiate yourself from your competitors?

Dr. Ederer:
The 3D sand-printing makes sense anywhere there is a certain amount of complexity in the component, and the components usually do not exceed a certain size. The complexity is predominantly present in castings for the automotive industry. There are some wonderful examples: cylinder heads, crankcases, but also a lot of turbocharger geometries – these can be empirically produced within the series process, then tested and optimized. This would not have been feasible in terms of cost in the past, and in this respect, we see many beautiful parts being produced and tested that may end up in a series within 5 years.

To answer the second part of the question: It’s no wonder that we have much in common with our colleagues from Gersthofen - the two companies were once one, but the companies have also developed independently, focusing on different areas. We do not work in the metal sector, but have focused instead on plastics. In sand, we also use different materials.  Philosophically, we tend to think in smaller, more powerful units, whereas our colleagues tend to think large-scale.

FP:
Additive manufacturing is not just something we do in Germany, or in developed countries. How does one have to imagine this globally, where can something like this be put to use, and where do you see potential markets; where is Voxeljet already in use?

Dr. Ederer:
Basically, it is a technique that can be perfectly applied in the foundry sector wherever components have a certain degree of complexity, and the quantities may not be quite as large. In this respect, it is less a matter of country-specific characteristics, but rather the end user markets. With China as the largest supplier of castings, followed by India, even if these countries are known as low-cost markets – there is a lot going on. They are very interested in skipping perhaps one or two development steps and investing directly in 3D printing technology. The fact is that we currently see more installations in the Asian area than in Europe or the US.

FP:
To operate such a machine, is it more useful to be someone who was trained in a foundry, or rather as a mechanical engineer; what kind of background would a potential operator have?

Dr. Ederer:
Ultimately, casting know-how must be present for the design. You have to heed mold making, and of course learn the particulars of 3D printing. The best prerequisite for this is the mold maker.
For the operation of the device, a technical background knowledge as well as a feel for the technology is necessary. As a rule, a certificate as a skilled worker in a technical environment is enough.

FP:
Such a machine / plant costs a bit.  Small or medium-sized companies especially often have difficulties with high initial investments, which are for them perhaps a bit daunting. How can you put their concerns to rest; Are there computational examples that make it easier for these companies to make such a decision?

Dr. Ederer:
In general, a 3D printer pays off relatively quickly. It depends very much on the component structure of the customer, which components he makes, which size, what complexity - to determine when and how such a device has paid for itself. We help the customer by offering the whole thing bit by bit via our parts service. That way, the customer is not forced to invest in the equipment right from the beginning, rather can get his forms from us "on demand", and successively learn how he can best put the technology into practice, until the point is reached that he can say it’s time for a decision. I think that this is the right way in which to offer the customer the customized solution he needs for his market environment.

FP:
You’ve already mentioned examples in the automotive sector where your machines are in use. How do you see the future in the area of additive manufacturing in sand? When will the series get bigger, or how will the shares in different areas shift?

Dr. Ederer:
Ultimately, the range of application for 3D printing will grow, as has been the case so far, and in general we believe that it will quickly come to a point where every foundry that wants to be innovate will have to have such a printer in stock to be able to produce initial prototypes and very small series at the very least. This will be the case relatively soon, and we will also see - in the next 3-5 years - the first large-scale applications with 3D printers. I can already imagine that there will be foundries in the future that will completely dispense of conventional design.

FP:
The signs are there: 3D printing will completely change our world as we know it today. We will someday find ourselves in a world where everyone has their own 3D printer at home. One can ignore that for now, but as far as the industry is concerned: printing on demand, spare parts on demand, and correct shifts which not only affect production, but also logistics and completely different areas ... As an expert, what can you tell us, about where we stand? How far are we; At which stage of development are we?

Dr. Ederer:
Much of what you mentioned is already possible. Certain topics, such as spare parts supply, are likely to be decentralized in the future. I believe the individual customer will not really perceive much of this coming “revolution” but will notice that the delivery times have become shorter, and that increasingly flexible parts can be ordered. I think the supply will simply change due to the customer’s needs - for the industry itself, there are truly dramatic opportunities! We will have fewer overseas transports, more local manufacturing. I do not believe in the home- 3D printer - I think they will become printing centers. Due to many things: qualification, quality assurance, the scope of materials or technologies - you simply cannot reproduce that at home. Such printing centers - that will probably happen.

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