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3D printing in machine and plant manufacturing: on its way from a specialised process to a key technology

10 Sept 2021

3D printing in machine and plant manufacturing: on its way from a specialised process to a key technology

Faster, more economical, more individual: 3D printing is emerging as a vital technology in many industries. Machine and plant manufacturing in particular benefits from the advantages of additive manufacturing. And even DIY stores are already waiting in the wings.

Imagine this scenario: an almost finished machine, only a few small components are missing – but they are not available at the moment. Being able to rely on a high-performance 3D printer in such a situation is a clear asset. It enables you to prefabricate the required components yourself on-site or with the help of a specialised service provider, making you independent of supply chains and cost-intensive warehousing. But these are not the only opportunities additive manufacturing offers: Unlike machining, 3D printing processes just as much material as needed, saving resources and costs.

Additive manufacturing (AM) demonstrates its strengths wherever conventional processes reach their limits:

  • When manufacturing complex components, especially those made of expensive materials and/or with a high degree of material removal, companies benefit from the tremendous design freedom and high material efficiency offered by 3D printing.
  • Prototyping only becomes truly rapid with AM. Development times can be shortened by up to 90 per cent as multiple iterations can be printed in parallel. The various development stages can be tested directly afterwards and quickly optimised further.
  • Individual parts or small series, for example spare parts in low-volume production, can be manufactured much more economically. At Mercedes Benz, for example, heavy-duty metal spare parts made of aluminium injection moulding alloy for older trucks and Unimog series are produced layer by layer by 3D printers.
  • For the production of parts for which individual tools or moulds have to be developed at great expense, or which require frequent tool changes, AM is the faster and more efficient solution.

Given these benefits, 3D printing is becoming more and more prevalent. According to a survey conducted by the VDMA Additive Manufacturing workgroup and 140 association members, almost half of the companies were already using the method in 2018.

Applications for the end consumer: 3D printing in DIY stores

In plastic printing in particular, printing systems and processes have advanced to such an extent that individual productions can be realised at prices that can keep up with mass production. That is why this technology is no longer limited to industry but is also being used more and more in the trades. Even consumers could soon have spare parts for household and DIY purposes manufactured additively: for example in 3D hubs or repair centres in larger towns or districts.

This is probably still a vision of the future, but DIY stores have already discovered the business model for themselves. The DIY chain Toom, for example, has started pilot projects for a 3D printing service at some locations. Consumers can have spare parts for defective objects or individual parts for their DIY projects produced there.

Discover the exciting possibilities of 3D printing for yourself. The special show "3D Printing - Additive Manufacturing" at the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR from 6 to 9 March 2022 will demonstrate the potential of the various processes with live presentations, provide insights into spare parts production and outlooks on innovative business models.

You can also find out more about the innovative uses of additive manufacturing in our blog post on 3D printing in the construction industry .