Additive manufacturing facilitates the fast and flexible manufacture of components
Additive manufacturing – sometimes referred to as AM, surfacing, 3D printing, and freeform manufacturing – is a method of many names. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to quickly and cost-effectively produce components whose properties (dimensions, geometry, weight, etc.) make them difficult or sometimes impossible to manufacture using other methods. This offers huge potential, not least for industries where there is considerable demand for smaller production runs of specialist components.
How does additive manufacturing work?
The word “additive” in the name of this manufacturing method indicates that the product is manufactured by adding layer after layer on top of each other. Conventional manufacturing using machining is subtractive in that it removes material from a block to produce the component or geometry you want.
In addition to the actual production of components and products, additive manufacturing can be used to coat, add details to, or repair an existing product. The laser beam heats the additive – either a wire or powder/powder bed – to produce a product with dual material properties – a soft and/or tough base material with a hard and durable surface, for example.
At Permanova, we have chosen to focus on additive manufacturing using wire. During the manufacturing process, wire is continuously melted by the laser beam. Whether you’re building a new structure or repairing or coating an existing component, a robot is used to position the optics and additive and to control the geometry. The additive is melted layer by layer to build up the new structure. It is a quick and efficient laser process that can build several kilos per hour. Surfacing using lasers and wire has the highest deposit rate of all the AM methods.
A major advantage of lasers and wire is the aesthetics of the surface, which can be retained on the finished product. By comparison, a powder bed results in a more coarse-grained surface. Wire currently builds layers thicker than one millimetre. Layers produced from powder range from less than a millimetre down to tenths of a millimetre.
Production using a powder bed requires a computerised 3D model of the object to be manufactured. The model is broken down into very thin segments and prepared as a production program. The laser beam melts the powder layers one by one to build up the component until it is finished.
What are the benefits of additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing makes it possible to quickly produce components that are easy to customise in terms of their design and materials. This offers great opportunities in the manufacturing industry in general, and the automotive and aerospace industries in particular. Large expensive castings that are difficult to customise can be replaced, as lighter customised products can be produced quickly and efficiently. This, in turn, has major benefits for manufacturers, customers, and the environment in general. We will return to this a little later in the article.
Another major advantage is the ability to create copies of tools, components, and devices that are no longer manufactured. A broken pump that has not been produced in decades can be scanned and a copy “printed” relatively quickly.
Additive manufacturing also results in very low material consumption thanks to production using powder or wire (with minimal waste). Consequently, large blocks of additives do not need to be manufactured, shipped, and stored before being used with large amounts of wastage. This is because it is often only a very limited part of the original additive that is actually used.
Lightweight specialist components make a huge difference in the aerospace industry
The aerospace industry was an early adopter of additive manufacturing, primarily due to the need for small runs of lightweight specialist components. Every gram counts in this industry. Similarly, it is essential that quality and strength are maintained.
A few years ago, Permanova was commissioned by GKN Aerospace Sweden to help produce laser equipment for the manufacture of exactly these kinds of components. The company is based in Trollhättan, where it develops and produces advanced components in specialised materials for leading players in the aerospace industry.
With its lightweight technology, Permanova was able to help GKN Aerospace Sweden to move away from the heavy and costly one-off castings it had traditionally used. These could be replaced by components that were optimised in terms of their geometry and materials, while providing the properties GKN required.
Lightweight specialised components result in lighter planes, which require less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide and other environmentally harmful substances. This is good for manufacturers, customers, and the world at large.
Additive manufacturing using lasers is a mature technology that is easy to automate, with low costs and high levels of availability. You can find out more about how we assisted GKN Aerospace Sweden on our website. On our inspiration pages, you will also find more case studies, our laser school, and several other articles on the benefits of different types of laser technology.