Additive manufacturing is quickly disrupting the traditional manufacturing processes in all industrial sectors. Manufacturers’ Monthly caught up with Benjamin Michelfelder, business development manager, Conflux Technology, to find out more.
As various businesses explore the potential uses of additive manufacturing in their respective industries, the technology is finding more and more applications in the traditional industrial processes.
Like any disruptive technology, the full scale of the change that the technology can bring to the sectors is not yet fully discovered, with each new application inspiring new, innovative ideas.
Benjamin Michelfelder, business development manager, Conflux Technology, said it’s important for manufacturers to understand that additive manufacturing is much more than a mere tool to replace the parts previously manufactured through traditional processes.
“Additive manufacturing brings about multi-disciplinary changes to various industries. Through additive manufacturing, the fundamental design of the companies and their business models are changing,” Michelfelder said.
Michelfelder recently moved to Australia on behalf of EOS – a global technology supplier in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers – to introduce the company’s products in the Australian market. EOS has partnered with Conflux Technology, an additive manufacturing applications company, to launch its products in the Australian and New Zealand markets.
“Additive manufacturing has been around for about 30 years, but the technology has drastically picked up pace in the past 10 years. Some of the main industries being disrupted by the technology are aerospace, transport, medical and the resources sectors. All of these sectors are at different stages of adapting to the technology,” he said.
As an example of how automotive manufacturers are using additive manufacturing to alter the customer experience, Michelfelder said EOS has collaborated with BMW in Germany to offer a unique customisation experience to customers.
“The program introduced by BMW – called MINI Yours Customised – allows customers to personalise some components of the MINI models they purchase. BMW has partnered with EOS to allow vehicle owners to design the side scuttles and interior trim while ordering their MINIs online.
“This is one of the first examples where the customers are fully involved in the design process, thanks to additive manufacturing. These are products that have very precise specifications, but the company can produce them on- demand for the customer, within a very short lead time. This success in mass customisation has strong implications for Australian industries – for example in the automotive aftermarket, orthotics, prosthetics and aviation,” Michelfelder said.
Michelfelder said Australia is moving slower than some other regions in the world when it comes to taking full benefit of the opportunities that additive manufacturing presents.
“So far, the adoption of additive manufacturing in Australia is mostly taking place in the field of academia and education. This is very good as it provides a solid base for companies to build on and allows companies to have access to people with knowledge and experience in additive manufacturing.
“Availability of skilled personnel is currently a missing link in the industry. This missing link is being tackled by machine manufacturers like EOS, enabling their customers to work with the technology and building up the skilled personnel at the same time,” Michelfelder said.
To help Australia catch-up to the global trends, Michelfelder said, the Australian industry needs to embrace the full complexities of the new technologies.
“Australian manufacturers need to make a leap into additive manufacturing by acquiring equipment, experiencing the full complexity of the technology and enabling the full excitement that people have around the technology in order to drive a disruptive change around their existing set-ups,” he said.
Australia is positioned ideally for benefiting from the opportunities provided by additive manufacturing technologies, according to Michelfelder.
“The set-up in Australia allows a perfect technology fit because of the high labour costs, as well as high standards of education. This allows for cutting-edge technologies that work best for production of high-valued components as well as tapping into the Australian ingenuity. Also, the remote situation of Australia on the global map makes it necessary for Australia to produce high-value products and try to be more self-reliant,” he said.
EOS is currently gearing up to introduce a new line of machinery, called the Factory Line, developed with the aim of integrating in the pre-existing industrial set-ups, Michelfelder said.
“The key goals were to reduce the cost and the amount of personnel interaction with the machine and to allow a full integration of this manufacturing technology into an existing manufacturing set-up. The interfaces of traditional machinery need not be re-invented for additive manufacturing in order to integrate the technology into existing set-ups,” he explained.
EOS is also working towards up-skilling the existing workforce and educating the industry
with the application of additive manufacturing technologies. Over the past four years, EOS has hired about 100 engineers under a program called Additive Minds.
“Additive Minds is the consulting arm of EOS GmbH that supports and enables successful integration of additive manufacturing solutions along with the customers’ technology and product roadmap.
“Additive Minds helps transfer expertise in a rapid and practical manner. Training is provided by a large, reliable network of experts in metal and polymer additive manufacturing systems. The Additive Minds’ programs are customised to accelerate the capability build up within the organisations,” Michelfelder said.