Additive Manufacturing: what it is and how Europe will revolutionize manufacturing processes and capabilities through the Integradde project

5 min

The transition from analog to digital is a fundamental key in a company’s transformation process. To do so, it is necessary to rely on innovations, and Additive Manufacturing is one of them. Indeed, more and more industries are benefiting from it, prompting the European Commission to target it through the Integradde project. But let’s see together what Additive Manufacturing is and what its potential is.

What is Additive Manufacturing?

Differing from traditional “subtractive” metal manufacturing processes – which start with a solid block or piece of metal and then subtract raw material to form component parts – “additive” manufacturing creates parts from scratch by adding material through an Industrial 3D printer.

With the transition from analog to digital, designers are using data computer-aided design software and 3D object scanners to render their drawings into “useful” pieces of information. Essentially, the software directs hardware to deposit materials layer-by-layer, until the designer’s vision is realized.

While additive manufacturing is increasingly used in the aerospace and automotive industries, it is also found within the public sector, most notably in healthcare and energy.

Additive Manufacturing: ISO reference standards

Additive manufacturing assumes one of seven forms:

  1. Vat Polymerization: This technique allows for the creation of three-dimensional objects by solidifying photosensitive resins through UV emissions.
  2. Material jetting: Hundreds of microdroplets are deposited through a print head, and then solidify to form layers.
  3. Binder Jetting: From a printing platform, a powder material is applied with a roller while its head dispenses a binder. This is one of the most efficient additive “maintenance” processes.
  4. Material Extrusion: Considered the most common at-home method for 3D printing, this process involves heating a strand of material and depositing it through a continuous flow print head, creating an object layer-by-layer.
  5. Powder Bed Fusion: Using a thermal energy source (e.g., an electron or laser beam), this process involves melting and precisely layering powder.
  6. Sheet Lamination: This method has two variants: ultrasonic additive manufacturing and laminated object manufacturing, which differ based on the material used and the bonding process involved. In each instance, layers are bonded by placing the material on a cutting bed and then shaping it with a knife or laser.
  7. Direct Energy Deposition (DED): Similar to Powder Bed Fusion, DED harnesses a focused energy source to melt the material – only in this case, the material is dissolved once it is deposited from the nozzle.

The reason I listed the DED method last is not that it is the least used, indeed, in the list of ISO/ASTM standards it is represented first. I did so because it is the method on which the European Commission has focused its push through the Integradde project and it seems the most interesting in the European context.

The use cases of Additive Manufacturing

After a brief overview of Additive Manufacturing, it is time to look at some use cases to better understand its operation and usefulness.


Additive Manufacturing represents the innovation that offers numerous benefits gathered in a single solution Click To Tweet

Aerospace

Even though this field requires the strictest performance standards – as the reproduced parts must hold up under harsh conditions – aerospace companies have been some of the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing. Common applications include environmental control system ducts, interior components for custom aircraft, rocket engine components, combustor liners, composite tools, oil and fuel tanks, and UAV components.

Automotive

The transportation industry’s components must withstand severe testing and yet remain light enough to avoid unnecessary friction and drag. With its wide range of robust materials and ability to build intricate shapes, transportation companies are beginning to see what additive manufacturing technologies can enable them to achieve.

Some of the applications, which are already transforming the industry, include resilient prototypes, elastomeric patterns, grills, custom interior features, and large panels that traditional manufacturing processes simply cannot replicate.

Healthcare

From functional prototypes with realistic anatomical models to components used in surgery, additive manufacturing is paving the way for previously unimaginable life-saving devices. To customize designs for physicians, patients, and research institutions, manufacturers are using a wide range of high-strength, biocompatible 3D printing materials, which can be either rigid or flexible, and opaque or transparent.

Its major applications include orthopedic and dental implants, pre-surgical models from computed tomography scans, custom saws and drill guides, housings, and specialized instruments.

Energy

Here, additive manufacturing is being used to develop custom mission-critical components that can withstand extreme conditions. This includes, but is not limited to, rotors, stators, turbine nozzles, borehole bottom instrument components and models, fluid flow analysis, flow meter parts, slurry motor models, pressure gauge parts, control valve components, and pump manifolds.

Consumer products

Finally, by using the rapid prototyping capabilities of additive manufacturing in consumer-facing products, developers can simulate the visual appearance of the final product during the design review phase.

The European Commission’s Integradde project: what it is and how it works

The growing interest in and efficiency of this process has prompted the European Commission to launch Integradde – an “Intelligent data-driven pipeline for the manufacturing of certified metal parts through Direct Energy Deposition processes.”

This interconnected, secure digital system will be capable of accelerating and vastly improving the manufacturing supply chain, insofar as it will allow companies to participate at various levels of the value chain. To that end, additive manufacturing will serve as the gateway to the digital ecosystem, wherein groups of companies will share in the design of certified parts.

Integradde project

The goal is to develop a new methodology that will ensure the manufacturability, reliability, and quality of a target metal component from product design (step 1 in the image above) through to approval and certification (step 7).

Within this cycle, I want to draw your attention to the following innovations:

  • A secure digital thread enables a holistic system-based approach – which allows for the seamless integration of the entire additive manufacturing (AM) workflow.
  • Pioneering open-source CAD/CAM technologies support the design, modeling, and process planning phases.
  • Using a quality-by-design manufacturing strategy, the pipeline combines online quality control systems and self-adaptive systems to reduce the consumption of raw materials.
  • Leveraging data analysis and machine learning allows for operational optimization, expedites product design, and enables AM process simulation by producing new certified metal parts.
  • Hardware-independent CAD/CAM supports both new and legacy infrastructure.
  • Additive manufacturing technologies are hybridized with earlier and later manufacturing technologies.
  • Along the product supply chain, product standardization and certification is supported by a digital thread of information.

Considering the significant investment and the players involved, AM is poised to play a critical role in advancing the European manufacturing sector.

AMA

Conclusion

Integradde expresses our propensity to come together as Europeans – in this case by creating a holistic ecosystem that leverages digital technologies to connect manufacturing companies. Freed of administrative burdens, this pipeline will enable collaboration at the manufacturing level that drives entire industries forward.

Additive manufacturing is injecting novelty into a sector that is too often wedded to tradition, just as it is hinting at the growing desire for European integration. This is why I was pleased to accept the invitation to become part of the project as an external expert and ambassador: to my core, I believe in a united Europe.

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