Custom Talks: “additive technology has, in large part, matured to the point where it can be integrated in existing production processes”

In Customization by trinckle team

Additive manufacturing is increasingly important for the mobility and logistics sector. We wanted to get an insider perspective on the opportunities and challenges companies in this branch are grappling with. And who better to give us the inside scoop than the Deutsche Bahn. We sat down with Arvid Eirich, Technical Project Leader of Mobility goes Additive, to learn more.

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1. How will increasing use of additive manufacturing affect your industry?

In a nutshell: the availability of vehicles and the resulting increase in customer satisfaction. For the people and companies involved in the transport and logistic sector, like the Deutsche Bahn AG (DB), as well as other companies, the availability of deployed assets plays an important role. In order to guarantee this availability, the maintenance of assets with a longer longevity must be carefully planned and optimally executed. Particularly here the enormous potential of additive manufacturing becomes clear. For example, when using older technology, obsolescence management is very important. Let me give you a more specific example. Some of the Deutsche Bahn’s vehicles remain in use for upwards of 30 years, and some of the replacement parts for these vehicles have delivery time of up to 2 years. With additive manufacturing, we have the opportunity to procure replacement parts that are no longer in circulation in the market much faster and at a lower price. Moreover, these components are often more optimally constructed. Because of this, vehicles can remain in use longer, improving the return on the high upfront investment such assets require. Only vehicles that are active and not in maintenance add value for us and, more importantly, our customers.

2. Which industries do you think will be most impacted by 3D printing in the next 5 – 10 years?

The most important areas for 3D printing technology are medicine, the construction sector, and the logistics sector. In essence, this technology will be relevant for industries where individualized products, short-notice, and/or small batches are necessary.

In the medical branch, I hope to witness breakthroughs in the 3D printing of cells and organs, which will have a considerable positive effect for research and thereby for public health. Similarly, in the construction industry, where the first houses have already been printed, I expect we will see a big shift in the market defined by more significant investment in the technology. As a result of new capabilities in lightweight construction, freedom of design, and manufacturing batches as small as one part or product, the mobility and logistics industries will experience a long-term push in development of new transportation concepts (hyperloop, drones for human transportation, etc.). In the short-term, so within the next 5 – 10 years, these branches will rely ever more heavily on additive technologies for the management of replacement parts, and small batches will become the norm.

3. What do you consider the main drivers of additive manufacturing?

The speed of the production process and the freedom of design.

4. What role do you think customization and product configuration will play in future AM business models?

I think that the individualization of components will play an important role in future. As product life cycles become shorter, I believe the user demand for individual products will grow in step. This demand can be satisfied through individual product configuration. For manufacturers, this means that the production of goods has to become more flexible and faster. The order penetration point will be pushed even further into the production process, to the point where customers can directly request small batches of particular products.

5. In your opinion, which industries stand to benefit the most from customization enabled by 3D printing?

In the short-term, those industries in which individual products in small batches are demanded stand to gain the most from 3D printing. In industries with highly individualized products, the manufacturing process has to be very efficient and economically feasible for the clients. One example is the medical industry. Every person is completely unique, and using additive manufacturing to produce ‘replacement parts’ (or supports) makes it more possible than ever to fully tailor devices to the individual. New business models that are based on speed and creating individual products can (and will) completely disrupt industries, as was the case with the US hearing aid market.

6. What do you think are some of the most significant challenges for companies looking to integrate additive manufacturing into their production processes?

In my opinion additive technology has, in large part, matured to the point where it can be integrated in existing production processes. That the adoption has been less than satisfactory up to this point has more to do with trust in new technologies and change management. The acceptance for additively manufactured components is in many sectors still quite limited. In part this is due to the relatively low level of awareness about 3D printing technology and the unimagined possibilities it brings. Furthermore, many employees still lack the training or know-how to understand the opportunities. Additive manufacturing is still seen chiefly as a prototyping production method, and as such some do not believe that it is capable of manufacturing components that are fit for operational use.

7. What developments in hardware and/or software do you think are necessary in order to make AM possible for serial production?

When it comes to hardware, the machines themselves must become more productive. Although the automated production process may be nice, the manual post-processing of components is very cumbersome. In this regard, we need to see an increase in the speed of the technology. In part the production times themselves are still too long, I would hope to see improvements in the near future. With respects to maintenance, it will be crucial to develop software that automates the identification and assessment of components that may be eligible for production with additive methods, but are currently still conventionally manufactured.

8. How will AM affect supply chains and what effects might this have on industries?

The supply chain will become bigger in the short-term. Companies with extensive 3D printing know-how are currently suppliers, but there are also a number of companies that are exclusively specialized in additive production methods. Quite likely, the supply chain will change to the point where customers find new suppliers for production with additive means and the current supplier will become responsible only for delivering a design. As a result, manufacturing will become decentralized. It is also very likely that companies without their own production capacity will contract out to those who do for short-term projects.

9. How is your organization contributing to the AM revolution?

The Deutsche Bahn is trying to push the industry out of the research and development phase and rather bring it to the point where we are looking at additive manufacturing through the needs and demands of a user. To propel the industry and additive manufacturing in the direction of “ready for serial production” the Deutsche Bahn, in collaboration with other companies, founded the international network “Mobility goes Additive”. In this network, the demands of users of additive manufacturing for the production of replacement components is explored. Already, the network has over 50 members, who together represent the entire supply chain of additive manufacturing from design and construction, all the way to production and application. Members have the opportunity to learn from each other, to further develop technology and materials, and to push forward certifications for components and processes.

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“Image 1” courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.

“Image 2” courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.