The fantastic benefits of 3D printing

Additive manufacturing can create more complex geometries and save significant weight

As a wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus, APWORKS has made a name for itself in the field of metallic 3D printing in particular. The innovative company, which has been operating on the Ludwig Bölkow campus near Munich since its founding in 2013, uses additive manufacturing to cover the entire value creation chain: From the design of components such as armrests or brackets to the selection of suitable materials and prototype construction, to qualified series production.

The Airbus subsidiary APWORKS has been part of Premium AEROTEC GmbH since April 2018 and is therefore active in the aerospace industry. The aerospace segment in particular benefits from weight savings of additive manufacturing. For example, with an arm rest it was possible to save an astounding 44 per cent in weight compared to the conventional design. And for the airline, every gram less means less kerosene consumption, reduced CO2 emissions. Among other things, APWORKS is active in Formula One (shortest delivery times, highly complex and at the same time lightweight components), robotics (increasing the efficiency of components through integration of several components and increased performance through reduction of the moving mass) and (special) mechanical engineering (weight savings, thereby also faster movements).

On the Ludwig Bölkow campus the selective laser melting process is used. Here, components are built up in layers using local melting and solidification of a thin, metallic powder layer. A laser fuses the individual powder layers to each other. The advantage of this procedure: Extremely complex geometries can be created. The best example of this is the Light Rider, the world‘s first prototype of a motorcycle developed for and produced with 3D printing.

Nevertheless, all additive processes also require additional processing. Here, APWORKS relies on its long-time partner the Hoffmann Group for tools and equipment.

The company, based in Munich, uses pliers and other hand tools from the premium brand GARANT, for example, to remove any supports. Subsequently, the printed blank is processed with pneumatic milling and grinding tools. And finally, the component is sandblasted to achieve a homogeneous appearance.

“We value the Hoffmann Group as a loyal and reliable partner and we appreciate their pioneering spirit, accompanying us on our path toward innovative technology.”

Joachim Zettler, Managing Director of APWORKS GmbH

In general, APWORKS believes that the potential of 3D printing is far from exhausted. Even today, numerous series production operations can be realised cost-effectively using additive manufacturing. However, even in the future, 3D printing will not be economically viable for every component or group of components. According to APWORKS, additive manufacturing will not be able to replace all conventional manufacturing methods, instead it will establish itself as one of the most promising new production methods on the market, just as metal-cutting manufacturing once did, for example.

In the coming years, there will still be much to do in additive manufacturing. For one, because the machines are being further automated and digitalised, and also because even more efficient and productive systems will make series production in larger style feasible.

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