Category: Innovation Infrastructure
Field lab RAMLAB, together with Airproducts, Fokker Aerostructures and voestalpine researched how the 3D printing technology from the field lab can reduce lead time in the manufacture and repair of metal molds. This proof of concept, which delivered astonishing results was partly funded by the public initiative SMITZH. The project provided, among other things, proof that the molds can be made in just a quarter of the original production time.
SMITZH joins forces with various Smart Industry field labs. In these field labs, Smart manufacturing technologies are developed, tested and implemented. Fieldlab RAMLAB consists of a consortium of companies that collaboratively test, validate and certify on-demand 3D printing of metal parts. RAMLAB uses so-called Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology for this. This is a technique where welding robots 3D print metal by welding bead welds together. The welding robots are supplied by Valk Welding, a company from the Rotterdam-The Hague region.
Fokker, one of the companies in the consortium, introduced a research request in 2018 related to the manufacture and repair of metal molds. Because voestalpine supplies wires that are necessary for welding; and Airpoducts supplies gas for the welding, they saw mutual benefits in doing a joint seed project.
Vincent Wegener – RAMLAB: “When developing and applying new technologies, companies are often faced with high investments. RAMLAB’s approach is to attract the right parties to a project in small steps, and in doing so, reduce costs for all participants. After this primary push and when the results came in positive, it was much easier for them to make the decision to continue the research.”
Challenges in the manufacture and repair of moulds
In the manufacturing industry, various companies such as Fokker Aerostructures use large metal moulds, for example for composite parts. Manufacturing and repairing these metal moulds comes with a number of problems. First of all, the lead times are very long, with an average of around 6 months. Secondly, these moulds wear quickly due to the heat and the contact between the two metals, causing the moulds to melt and crack. After about 500x stamping, these are no longer accurate enough and need to be repaired, which is dangerous and hazardous manual work with high costs.
The seed project and the results
After being awarded the voucher, the 4 parties started work on the seed project for a period of approximately 3 months, resulting in a demonstrator showcasing to what extent the WAAM technology available in RAMLAB can improve repair and manufacture on a small scale.
All parties were able to extract value from the results. The prototype for Fokker shows that moulds can be manufactured within 6 weeks instead of 6 months. Voestalpine has proven that the wires are suitable for application in WAAM technology. With the help of Airpoducts, the process has been optimized to achieve the required quality.
Marko Bosman – Fokker Aerostructures: “The use of Additive Manufacturing for moulds not only offers advantages of short lead times and lower costs, but also the possibility of delivering a better product with greater functionality if the greater design freedom of Additive Manufacturing is utilised.”
This seed project has also demonstrated benefits of robotized mould repair. The need for this was validated during a conference.
The seed project helped the various parties with making their first move. Through the joint application and the use of the voucher, the research project accessible. Fokker is now continuing with a follow-up study to see how the project can be scaled up and the technology implemented.
RAMLAB is now in contact with a number of European forges to repair parts using this new technique. By applying the smart technology with the welding robots and 3D metal printing, these activities could again take place locally.