Although the company’s headquarters are near Munich, EOS plays at home at the AMTC’s 2021 location in Aachen. The market leader for metal and polymer PBF systems is working hard on constantly improving repeatability in AM and the reproducibility of additive production. That’s the topic that EOS Senior Vice President EMEA Markus Glasser discussed during a panel titled “Reproducibility: Success Factors in Scaling Up”, when, together with Trumpf’s René Kreissl, Head of Business Unit Additive Manufacturing, and representatives from ASTM, TÜV SÜD and Linde, he addressed the current state, progress, and what needs to be accelerated in the future to further improve the goal of process stability.
We caught up with Mr. Glasser ahead of the discussion to get some insights into this effort and in general on his view of Oerlikon’s strategy to help increase AM adoption through investments and partnerships with the academic and institutional sectors.
Glasser confirms that the AMTC conference is an ideal place to meet colleagues and partners in person, exchanging first-hand information, networking, and tackling certain key topics, such as the ever more pressing issue of part repeatability, together. The consensus is that everyone here wants to bring this technology to be used more and more for serial manufacturing applications. And they look to EOS to deliver it in terms of process and workflow capabilities. But the company can’t go at it alone.
“As a pure player AM technology vendor—Glasser explains—we need a lot of resources to address issues such as repeatability, producibility, sustainability and automation. Governmental support is necessary to continue to advance and scale.”
The next step is, of course, education. Mr. Glasser thinks that there is more AM know-how now available in academia, but most institutions are still not on a level where everybody understands how to design additively manufactured parts. Much like Prof. Süß (see our full interview here), he thinks we need to work on how to integrate classes that are entirely dedicated to additive manufacturing.
From one to many
Part repeatability is a challenge that EOS also needs to work on directly but there are many ways to go about it. “There several aspects to consider in order to achieve repeatability,” Glasser explains: “One is that we should take out complexity and think in industrial solutions. which have to be developed along the entire value chain. We then sell the entire solution, with the AM machine being one part of it. By focussing on the right industrial solutions, complexity is reduced which further helps to improve reproducibility.” As an example, Glasser is showing me the elegant pair of 3D printed glasses that he is wearing). “So, we need more applications and more adopters to develop such solutions, in both polymers or in metals.”
EOS is leveraging the newer EOS M 300-4 systems to facilitate this application-specific workflow optimization process for the many worldwide EOS customers that have their own applications to bring to market. The goal is to make the entire workflow as uniform as possible. “These systems are based on a highly modular infrastructure that lets us use more identical components, for example, the same laser and flow management systems,” Glasser explains. “Thus, we can more easily enable services to ensure that repeatability is improving. Then we have also had monitoring solutions that allow us to correct when there is a deviation. This is all enabled by the EOS M 300-4’s connectivity.”
Glasser is also presenting several practical solutions to increase uniformity across systems and factories, , starting from machine production to an accurate and standardized calibration process that the customer can implement. “To ensure the highest quality, we are looking at the entire supply chain [intended here as the supply chain of 3D printer manufacturing, not that of 3D printed parts manufacturing], so that EOS’ suppliers, our own production site [doing the final AM system assembly], always follow the same quality criteria to set up the machine at exactly the same level every time. Combined with the quality steps when installing the system at the customer, the goal of all these initiatives is to have identical setups that operate identically.”
The highest level
Looking more specifically at the 3D printed part itself, a major element of ensuring repeatability is represented by the technical level of the materials used. Glasser highlights that there exists a big difference between having high-level material readiness for a single application—that could be the size of an iPhone—and obtaining the same readiness level for all parts made with a particular material within a full-size build. EOS currently identifies nine levels of materials technical readiness. Industrialized materials such as Ti64, Inconel and several steels are on levels seven to nine. Some materials such as copper are on level three. Custom materials can be any level that the customer wants.
“Taking a material to level nine takes a long time because it means that we need to validate it extremely extensively,” Glasser confirms. “However, if a company knows that they are going to use a material for a particular solution, it’s a lot easier and faster to validate it. We’ve seen some examples from Mobility Goes Additive of parts that have been validated for full producibility and repeatability on different systems.”
In this sense, and despite the dip due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, aerospace remains for EOS the segment that has made the most advancements in terms of entering production of final parts. In particular, the space industry is currently experiencing rapid growth in demand of AM parts, driven by the current hype. The medical segment as well as several examples of applications that have been qualified and certified and are already offering profitable value propositions on specific products.”
The biggest challenge is the automotive industry. “It is a more long-term opportunity but we are already seeing some interesting applications with great potentials, such as copper parts in the field of electric vehicles. There, the goal is to decrease the size of EV engines while also increasing performance, for example. Automotive requires higher productivity,” Glasser admits adding that it can be achived not only with larger build volumes and higher laser capacity but also through more machines.”
EOS is now working on a high-speed million-laser-diode technology for polymers called LaserProFusion technology and Glasser concedes that achieving something similar for metals would be a major breakthrough in terms of productivity but, he says, “there are many other practical initiatives we can implement in the meantime to achieve higher, repeatable productivity today: from optimizing more materials to further increasing workflow automation.”
Glasser concludes and emphasizes that EOS backing up its statements on reproducibility with exact numbers and studies, as is a recent whitepaper showing which investigates the performance of a standardized test job layout built on three different EOS M 290 systems using EOS Titanium Ti64ELI. In a nutshell, the results verify that the EOS M 290 shows a high capability of more than 4 Sigma for the tensile properties across the three machines located in different facilities, verifying that EOS systems are ready for decentralized serial additive manufacturing.