Innovative automation solutions for additive manufacturing 2.0

Guest contributor: Peter Berens, Bosch Rexroth

Additive manufacturing is a growth market – sales worth tens of billions of euros are expected by 2020. However, innovative automation solutions are needed if this disruptive technology is to achieve a breakthrough and make the leap from prototype construction and toolmaking to industrial mass production.

If machine manufacturers want to achieve the productivity needed for mass production, they need to reduce the amount of manual work involved, the reject rate and the quality assurance outlay and successfully integrate the machines into the production line. Both challenges can be met through high-performance, intelligent and connective automation.

IoT as a key technology

In the factory of the future, AM machines will be connected horizontally and vertically to higher-level and neighboring IT systems. When it comes to the industrial Internet of things, Bosch Rexroth relies on open i4.0 standards such as OPC UA. With full server/client functionality, processes, cycle times and energy consumption can be evaluated in real time and optimized to achieve better productivity and quality. In conjunction with intelligent algorithms in drive and control technology, Bosch Rexroth also carries out predictive maintenance.

3D printing and the factory of the future

Thanks to decentralized intelligence, drive technology without control cabinets and open standards, the next generation of AM machines is ready for the factory of the future. Wireless communication and modular production lines increase flexibility while reducing set-up times. As a result, the factory layout can be geared to current and future requirements. The next logical step is the decentralization of the control system which will then receive its programs as necessary from the cloud.

What the hardware must be capable of

Whether it be metal, plastic or ceramic: the output in the relevant AM procedure depends very much on the performance of the CNC or motion control system. The shorter the cycle times, the more quickly the NC programs run. The higher the performance, the quicker 3D data can be computed on the CNC and process data collected and processed in real time. The MTX CNC system from Rexroth achieves this with a combination of a high-performance dual core processor and decentralized intelligence allowing fast reaction times. As a result, many additional tasks can be performed by the machine. Planning, programming and the commissioning of all system components take place in a standardized manner via IndraWorks Engineering.

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Software makes all the difference

In order to be able to control the application of additive materials precisely and to influence it easily with process variables, the control software too must be particularly powerful. The MTX system software includes numerous AM-specific CNC functions for this purpose. These include an intelligent temperature control system and a 3D online simulation with collision recognition which automatically visualizes the construction time, positioning and printing head travel. The standardized G code is supported by any slicer software. Integrated NC encoding systems protect manufacturer-specific know-how.

Digitizing the workflow

Another key development area is the digitization of the workflow with typical tasks such as print configuration, job management, machine monitoring including online process modification or controlling intralogistics. Because this is not possible without interfaces to the software programs involved (e.g. CAD/CAM systems or simulation solutions), the MTX CNC system has an open system architecture and the Open Core Interface. As a result, machine operators can easily integrate their workflows. In a pre-production context, there are numerous benefits including material simulations or the certification of quality-related parameters. The CNC system thus fits seamlessly into simulation environments as “hardware in the loop”.

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Efficient, intelligent and connective: the MTX CNC system from Rexroth. (Source: Bosch Rexroth AG)

Industrial 3D printing in practice

Norsk Titanium AS demonstrates just how efficient industrial 3D printing can be. The world’s leading provider of additive manufacturing technologies for aerospace-grade titanium established the first additive production facility on an industrial scale. In its Rapid Plasma Deposition™ machines, an MTX system controls not only plasma burners but also ten servo axes for producing components and conveying or handling the titanium wire. The MTX system also takes care of process optimization in real time by evaluating sensors and calculating correction values. Bosch Rexroth contributed to the partnership through the experience that it gained during more than 100 group AM projects along with various system components such as drive controllers, supply units, motors and linear systems including the IMS high-precision integrated measuring system.

The German machine tool manufacturer Weisser presented its Weisser additive manufacturing exhibit for the first time at the EMO 2017 and the Metav 2018. Equipped with an additive friction welding unit (AFW), it allows fine layers of metal to be deposited on metal materials and then precision-machined using metal-cutting techniques. As a result, the final contour is maintained with minimal material use. This technology too benefits from the MTX CNC system whose user interface can be integrated seamlessly into the multi-touch operating panel thanks to the open architecture.

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The future will be even simpler

With high-performance and high-connectivity automation solutions, industrial 3D printers will be fast and reliable enough for use in mass production. Open interfaces will help to digitize workflows. IoT connectivity is paving the way for the factory of the future. At the same time, experienced system partners such as Bosch Rexroth who provide not only engineering and application support but also complementary technologies such as decentralized drive or linear technology with integrated sensor systems can help manufacturers to acquire the necessary know-how.

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CMA/Flodyne/Hydradyne is an authorized Bosch Rexroth distributor in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northern Indiana.

In addition to distribution, we design and fabricate complete engineered systems, including hydraulic power units, electrical control panels, pneumatic panels & aluminum framing. Our advanced components and system solutions are found in a wide variety of industrial applications such as wind energy, solar energy, process control and more.

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