The ‘Metal Head’: From leaving school to pioneering in 3D printing – part III

Bionic concept design for an Airbus jet. Photo credits: Airbus Operations

The ‘Metal Head’ – more commonly known as Frank Herzog – was still in elementary school in Bamberg, Bavaria (Germany) when he fell in love with metals. A few years later he decided to pursue his passion. This is the third and final part of this story about the founding of Concept Laser, here you can read part I, and part II.

Translated from German, original article: GE Reports Germany

In 2000, Concept Laser was founded by Frank and Kerstin in a small area of a factory, where the construction of the very first machine was conducted. In the following year, the first laser-driven 3D printer for metals was presented at Euromold in Frankfurt.

However, the technology was still so new (Frank Herzog’s first system alone already had five patents) that potential customers did not know what to do with it. “We were so excited, but at the same time so naive,” Herzog tells. “We had no idea how we would sell the systems.”

Robert and Kerstin’s father each bought a machine, as did Daimler, where the printer was used for the rapid prototyping of vehicle parts. For assistance with marketing, Frank and Kerstin – who were now married – employed Oliver Edelmann, who had sold a stereolithography machine to Robert.

Further development

The company settled down in the small Bavarian town of Lichtenfels and began developing new, both larger and smaller machines. These could also print components made of stainless steel such as titanium, aluminum, cobalt, nickel alloys and other materials. Edelmann is now responsible for Global Sales at GE Additive.

“With the help of bionic design, structures of nature can be mimicked and thus the best possible solution can be found,” says Hund. Photo credits: Laser Zentrum Nord GmbH and iLAS-Technische Universität Hamburg-Harburg / Concept Laser.

The new machines proved to be useful. Kerstin’s father and uncle for example used them for the pressure of complicated cooling channels in the interior of steel molds, into which plastics are injected. “They pumped coolant through these channels, which could not be milled. This allowed the molds to be cooled down up to thirty percent faster,” says Daniel Hund, Marketing Director at Concept Laser.

With the help of the new, 3D printed design, an enormous increase in the turnaround of injection molds and productivity was possible without the need for customers to invest in a new injection molding machine.

“It makes no sense to produce a conventional design using additive manufacturing, the potential of additive manufacturing would thus remain unused.”

Making Additive Manufacturing work

As the size of the company grew, a broader range of products was also offered. In 2014, Concept Laser sold 100 machines per year, held a total of 65 patents and registered 120 more. One year later, Airbus and ‘Laser Zentrum Nord’ used another printer from Concept Laser to design and manufacture a ‘bionic’, 30 percent lighter wingspan for Airbus’s latest A350 XWB passenger aircraft. For this, Frank Herzog and two colleagues from Airbus and the Laser Zentrum Nord 2015 were awarded the prestigious German Future Prize (‘Deutschen Zukunftspreis’).

Together, Concept Laser and GE are now making additive manufacturing available for a larger customer group. GE Additive is taking a first step with the opening of customer experience centers worldwide,  the most recent of which is located in Munich. In these centers, companies can convince themselves of the possibilities the production technology holds.

“It makes no sense to produce a conventional design using additive manufacturing,” says Hund. “The potential of additive manufacturing would thus remain unused. We help them to design components in such a way that they will be lighter, offer more functions or – for example – unite thirty parts in a single piece.”

“Our customers will love it,” Herzog concludes.