SLM Solutions, Bosch, Weidmüller Interface, and Weisser Spulenkörper will share their insights on using 3D printing for a competitive advantage at the AM Forum Berlin 2023.

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AM Forum Berlin 2023 was an event that focused on the theme of Additive Manufacturing in a VUCA world. But what exactly does VUCA mean? It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, all characteristics of the world we live in today. The forum brought together speakers from various industries to discuss how industrial 3D printing can give companies a competitive edge.

One of the key takeaways from the event was the importance of partnerships. The CEO of SLM Solutions, Sam O’Leary, spoke about the need to partner and integrate technology in order to truly benefit from it. He emphasized that technology alone is not enough, and without partnerships, it becomes just an isolated piece of cool technology.

One example of a successful partnership discussed at the forum was between SLM Solutions and Bosch. Bosch, a company with over 170 years of manufacturing experience, has embraced additive manufacturing as a necessary competitive advantage. Their collaboration with SLM Solutions, a leading developer of additive manufacturing technology, has had a profound impact on both companies.

O’Leary explained that SLM Solutions’ mission is to change the future of manufacturing forever, and this can only be achieved through strong partnerships that foster innovation and deliver results. Their partnership with Bosch is a testament to this approach. The goal is to integrate SLM’s technology into Bosch’s existing production processes, creating a comprehensive industrial production system.

For Bosch, this partnership is vital as additive manufacturing is seen as an essential solution to global manufacturing challenges. In their Powertrain Solutions division, located in Nuremberg, they have established a highly efficient additive manufacturing operation. With five metal 3D printing machines, the division completes over 300 projects annually and produces more than 2000 parts.

However, Bosch faces challenges in this journey. One issue is the catch-22 situation of needing new machines to generate business, but businesses also needing to invest in new machines. This impasse requires a different approach, one that sees additive manufacturing not as an alternative, but as a decisive advantage to improve product performance and control costs.

Bosch has shifted its focus from being technology-driven to product-focused, recognizing that the benefits of additive manufacturing lie in its ability to enhance products. This new mindset has already shown promising results, particularly in ensuring quality in the automotive industry. With a high volume of parts, testing each one is not feasible, but additive manufacturing allows for improved control and consistency.

The story of SLM Solutions and Bosch’s partnership is just one example of how additive manufacturing can be used alongside traditional methods to drive industry transformation. The key, as highlighted at AM Forum Berlin 2023, is not just the technology itself, but the partnerships that enable its integration and utilization to deliver real value in a VUCA world.

emphasized From Reliable Processes to Reducing Production Costs: The Journey of Bosch in Additive Manufacturing

The world of additive manufacturing (AM) is constantly evolving, and companies like Bosch are at the forefront of this technological revolution. Driven by the need for reliable and reproducible processes, the Nuremberg team at Bosch has been working tirelessly to understand the quality of their products and find innovative solutions to meet automotive expectations.

Dr. Kuhlmann, a key figure in Bosch’s AM journey, stresses the importance of not only producing the right products but also understanding shopfloor organization and the increasing role of automation. While Bosch initially started small, they are now set to make big strides in the industry. Dr. Kuhlmann’s estimation suggests that the company will continue to rely on older-generation machines for pseudo-production, the interim stage between prototyping and mass production. However, to achieve the final stage of serial production, Bosch must transition to highly productive and cost-effective machines such as the next-gen SLM offerings.

In this pursuit, strategic partnerships become crucial, and Dr. Kuhlmann hints at a deep alliance with SLM Solutions. Through such collaborations, Bosch aims to increase productivity, control processes, and meet internal and customer expectations. Dr. Kuhlmann remains confident that additive manufacturing will be a game changer for Bosch, with growing volume, competitive prices, and reliable processes shaping a positive future.

While Bosch focuses on its AM journey, other industries are also exploring the possibilities of 3D printing. One such sector is the electrical connector industry, which faces the challenge of reducing production costs while maintaining product integrity. Dr. Simon Althoff, Head of the Smart Connectivity Competence Center at Weidmüller Interface, sheds light on this issue during an AM Forum keynote address.

Electrical connectors play a vital role in transmitting electricity from a source to various devices across different sectors. Dr. Althoff emphasizes that in this industry, adherence to established industry standards and certifications is as important as the manufacturing process itself. The trust of customers lies not just in the product but also in the certificates that validate its quality and compliance. This presents a unique challenge for additive manufacturing, as navigating the landscape of certifications and industry standards can be complex and costly.

Certification tests, such as flammability tests to ensure components are flame-retardant, represent a significant cost for the electrical connector industry. However, AM has provided solutions with flame-retardant plastic parts, showing promising potential in meeting these stringent requirements. Dr. Althoff acknowledges the value of additive manufacturing but also highlights the need to bridge the gap between technology and tradition.

Industrial 3D printing offers transformative solutions for manufacturing niche components like low-run products that may not be economically feasible using traditional methods. Dr. Althoff highlights this aspect by mentioning the automated injection molding machines used by Weidmüller Interface for high-volume production, alongside the need for additive manufacturing to cater to low-run products that customers expect.

Although the transition to additive manufacturing comes with its challenges, companies like Bosch and Weidmüller Interface are actively exploring ways to scale the technology. Finding the right balance between technology and tradition is key, allowing them to reduce production costs, improve efficiency, and meet the required quality standards for industrial-grade products.

As the AM industry advances, it is clear that reliable processes and reduced production costs are not mutually exclusive goals. By embracing strategic partnerships, understanding certifications, and finding ways to scale 3D printing, companies like Bosch and Weidmüller Interface are paving the way for a future where additive manufacturing becomes the norm in various industries.

Dr. Althoff, an expert in the additive manufacturing industry, believes that one of the major challenges faced by the industry is post-processing. While the technology and machines are readily available, there is a lack of industrial post-processing capabilities. Additionally, certification is another hurdle that needs to be overcome. Products manufactured using additive manufacturing must meet strict standards, with a UL certificate being the ultimate benchmark. This presents a trust issue for the industry.

However, Dr. Starnecker, the CEO of Weisser Spulenkörper, a company specializing in injection molding, sees great potential in additive manufacturing. They have found that additive manufacturing can be more cost-effective than plastic injection molding for lower volumes of production. Dr. Starnecker describes this flexibility as “the fourth dimension in production,” encompassing freedom of design, faster iterations during the development phase, and variability in the quantity of produced parts. Weisser Spulenkörper is already producing high-quality functional parts using additive manufacturing, striving to match or surpass the quality of traditional manufacturing methods. This marks a significant step towards “industrial additive manufacturing.”

Dr. Starnecker predicts a shift in the norms of the injection molding industry. The high costs associated with traditional manufacturing methods pose a barrier for manufacturers, especially when the market reception for a new product is uncertain. Additive manufacturing offers a solution by allowing manufacturers to produce, test, and introduce new products with limited financial risk. This is particularly beneficial for products with a quantity of less than 10,000 parts per year, where customization and low volume can coexist economically. It also reduces storage costs and capital tied up in molds.

Beyond cost savings, additive manufacturing offers unparalleled customization and complexity. Each part can be unique, providing endless possibilities for product design. However, Dr. Starnecker emphasizes that trust is crucial for the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing as a reliable and repeatable industrial process. Building trust within the community and the industry is important for addressing sustainability and economic challenges.

In conclusion, the future of additive manufacturing holds great potential. Overcoming the challenges of post-processing and certification will be key in establishing additive manufacturing as a trusted and sustainable industrial process. With its flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and customization capabilities, additive manufacturing has the power to revolutionize the manufacturing industry. It’s time for the industry to “leave the playground and get serious” about additive manufacturing.

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