Additive manufacturing: 3D printing with metals 3 minutes spent reading

Additive manufacturing: 3D printing with metals

Volkmar Held

Additive manufacturing – popularly known as 3D printing – is one of the most revolutionary new manufacturing methods of our time. As a technology group, voestalpine is naturally implementing this new technology while also making use of our in-house expertise to develop it further. Whether as a manufacturer of race car components or as a producer of metal powders: voestalpine is helping define the future of the new technology.

Additive manufacturing is a new technology that is being enthusiastically adopted at voestalpine. It not only allows lossless processing of high-value material but also results in a high-strength component that would not be conceivable using conventional methods. Production is based directly on digital data. The process creates parts that can be delicate as well as high-strength, such as wheel bearings for electric race cars or tools that incorporate cooling channels to mould plastics.

Modeled on nature

Nature demonstrates how stable structures can be created with as little use of materials as possible. With its high- and ultra-high-strength materials, voestalpine is already pursuing this path each and every day. A great many technical solutions are inspired from nature: where no material is required, none is allowed to grow.
Up to now, manufacturing methods such as milling, turning or drilling have been used for fragile components or large tools with complicated cooling systems inside. They remove material from a casting or blank and, in the process, create waste – provided that the structure can be created at all.
But what happens if we take our idea from nature? Bees build their hives by gluing together tiny wax plates – weighing just tenths of a gram – according to a fixed plan. The concept of carving a hive from a heavy clump of wax is not included in their stores of technologies …

Additive manufacturing is one of the most revolutionary new manufacturing methods of our time.

A new way of constructing things

Additive manufacturing (or AM, for short) picks up on this idea and uses the latest computer and laser technology to fuse fine metal powders into complex and high-strength components. Starting with three-dimensional computer construction files, additive manufacturing enables a virtually lossless production of even the most complex shapes.  With conventional technologies like milling, turning and boring, etc., these structures would either not be producible at all or would require extreme effort. But additive manufacturing is not only revolutionizing the manufacturing process: The design engineers also had to rethink the design process in order to benefit from implementing the new possibilities in a component.

It has been possible to manufacture metal objects in this way since the mid-1990s. Since there are generally few restrictions on their design, completely new products can be constructed and later – an additional benefit – manufactured in very low volumes, e.g. for medical applications like hip joints or prosthetics.
The powder specialists at voestalpine are researching special materials for the new technology, which both the research centers in Düsseldorf (voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Center GmbH) and Singapore (voestalpine Additive Manufacturing Center Singapore Pte. Ltd) are currently working to advance.

Lighter with additive manufacturing

One example from the aerospace industry demonstrates the advantages this technology offers: As opposed to the massive steel version, the titanium model of the safety belt buckle optimized with additive manufacturing weighs about 55 percent less – 70 grams instead of 155. This means about about 72.5 kg less take-off weight for an Airbus 380 (with 853 seats). Calculated for the life-cyle of an aircraft, this results in saving about 3.3 million liters of fuel, which above all means an enormous positive effect for the environment.

Such technological possibilities move voestalpine – and the Group continues to move, in its AM Development Centers in Düsseldorf and Singapore as well as with the experienced metal powder specialists at Uddeholm in Hagfors and BÖHLER Edelstahl in Kapfenberg.