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Individual meets digital

Technological advances have made additive manufacturing fit for automation

Over the past decades, automation has left its mark on the industry worldwide. In the large car factories, more robots than people work in some halls. In modern industrial countries such as Germany, Singapore and South Korea, between 300 and 600 robots per 10,000 employees are now in use in the manufacturing industry. The trend continues to rise.

But the use of robots has almost become standard in the automation world. The current challenges in the industry are the development of digital manufacturing. And the use and integration of additive manufacturing offers great potential in this area.

So far, the world of automation has benefited from additive manufacturing in the form of 3D-printed robot grippers, spare parts or production equipment. In the future, however, this could become significantly more: After all, additive manufacturing itself can also be automated. And the faster the 3D printers become, the more attractive is unmanned assembly, unloading and further processing.

The course has already been set for the automated use of additive manufacturing. The AM industry has worked very hard on the reliability and repeatability of its systems and quality assurance and has now developed extensive standards for numerous industries. In this way, reproducible and comprehensible processes can be represented.  And the hardware is also equipped for automation. Modern additive systems usually have interfaces for component removal and further processing.

Additive manufacturing thus offers great potential when integrated into existing or new automated process and manufacturing chains. This is already partly the case in the plastics sector. For the metal sector, the Dutch manufacturer Additive Industries, in cooperation with SMS Group, has already presented a concept for the additive factory of the future - including powder production, component separation and conventional post-processing.  Many other companies have also positioned themselves here: For example, Bosch Rexroth is cooperating with BigRep so that industrial 3D printing can show its full potential in the factory of the future.

In the future, for example, automotive parts could be individually machined or redesigned using additive manufacturing in automated production. At the same time, factories can start their production much faster because 3D printing does not require any tools.

Those who deal with automation will not be able to avoid additive manufacturing in the future. The diverse possibilities, the right systems and interfaces as well as solutions for quality control and post-processing can be found at Formnext, the world's leading trade fair for additive manufacturing and modern industrial production from 19 - 22 November 2019 in Frankfurt am Main.

Picture: Plant concept of the production system for additive manufacturing of SMS Group and Additive Industries. Source: SMS Group

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