In their research, Siemens AG focuses on a dozen core technologies, among them additive manufacturing (AM). The range of applications is growing steadily. Apart from this, Siemens offers solutions for AM software and automation.
By Peter Trechow, VDMA
Dr. Karsten Heuser, Vice President for Additive Manufacturing in the Siemens Division Digital Factory in Erlangen, is responsible for these activities. In April 2018, he joined the board of the Additive Manufacturing Association within VDMA. In this interview, he talks about his goals in the board, about technological developments in the AM sector and its role in the year 2030.
How significant is additive manufacturing (AM) for the global player Siemens?
Dr. Karsten Heuser: In May 2017, our chief technology officer Roland Busch has named a dozen core technology fields on which our research will be concentrated in the future. One of these is additive manufacturing. This illustrates the high significance we attribute to this technology. We have more than one decade of experience as a user, and we have nearly 60 industrial AM systems in operation – and we also offer solutions for software, automation, and digitalization ourselves. The roles of user and solution developer complement each other perfectly: from users, we receive process requirements and valuable experience from operating systems, and based on this, we can optimize our software and automation solutions.
Which part of the AM value chain does your Division Digital Factory cover?
Heuser: We offer solutions for AM system engineers and users: starting with software for design, simulation and optimization of parts, then controls for AM systems and AM factories up to automation and drive solutions all along the AM process chain. In addition, we have value-add services based on our open, cloud-based operating system MindSphere, be it cloud or IoT solutions; we offer consulting services as well as our new platform “Additive Manufacturing Network”. This platform offers knowhow, digital tools, and production capacity on demand, and you can use it to digitally conclude the procuration of AM parts.
Where do you see the biggest challenges on the path to becoming an industrial series technology?
Heuser: Additive series manufacturing has become reality with us for some applications. For example, my colleagues at Power Generation Services have installed AM capacities for about 1,000 gas turbine burners. This gives us the chance to analyze the value chain in order to identify challenges and disruptions in the whole process. After all, the printing process is just one part of that. So far, there is no disruption-free data chain from the design up to a simulation-based optimized, ready-for-press construction. And with powder handling, post-processing, finishing, and quality control, manual labor is still common. Integrating these process steps into one continuous operation poses a challenge. While we have already realized such integrated process chains, it remains a challenge to manage that in an economical way within daily manufacturing routines.
“There will be an all-encompassing juxtaposition of additive and traditional technologies. Often, additive technologies are an excellent complement.”
Another challenge is education and training for construction engineers. Anyone used to construction with subtractive technologies will need to learn how to exploit the potentials of additive manufacturing technologies. Reorganizing thinking towards bionic grid structures and finite elements simulations needs time. I also see challenges in the software chain. So far, tools and data formats are heterogeneous. You need to export, to import new data formats, sometimes you even need to enter data into the systems via a USB stick. These disruptions reduce data quality and traceability, and they also put up limits, prohibiting a complete process simulation which would allow for the immediate incorporation of insights into construction. This is where our solutions come in: our goal is to turn the fractional process chain into integrated lines, so that users can fully exploit the design options of this technology, which is digital at core.
Considering technologies, materials, and applications, additive manufacturing is actually heterogeneous. In terms of automation, is there still a common denominator?
Heuser: This broad range is challenging. However, in terms of automation, there are several transferable core areas: the control of complex multi-axis operation for the functional interaction of additive material composition and robotics. Also, the synchronization of the AM process and drive technology are classical topics for which there are established solutions from factory automation and machine control. Of course, process control needs to be adapted to each application. Still, we can draw back on our broad-range experience and solutions from process automation and discreet manufacturing whenever we want to integrate various AM technologies in factories in order to knit them into one automated complete chain.
How do you imagine a typical AM process chain in the year of 2030 – and who will be using it?
Heuser: There will be an all-encompassing juxtaposition of additive and traditional technologies. Often, additive technologies are an excellent complement. I assume that by 2030, digitalization will have advanced to a degree that allows for digitally interlinked, locally separated process chains: specialized print and post-processing centers will form evenly distributed production networks. In the spare parts sector, it will become standard to use AM wherever parts will be needed urgently. There will be business models of companies selling 3D designs. Via blockchain and cryptographic technology, the number of prints will be regulated, thus putting a stop to any design manipulation or pirate copies. Thus, AM will be completely integrated into our manufacturing world.
You were recently voted into the board of the Additive Manufacturing Association within VDMA. Are there any specific topics or goals you would like to promote?
Heuser: I think that additive manufacturing is relevant for many companies that have not yet managed access to it. The Association offers great opportunities to quickly gain ground in this technological field through best-practice sharing, working groups, and exchanging experiences through the network. I would like to have a share in this and contribute our large network. Other relevant topics are the exchange on standardized data formats and organizing integrated process chains. In my board time, I want to win over other industrial partners to the potentials of additive technologies and to collaboration within the Association. At Siemens, we know the value of strong networks!