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Siemens’ Ulli Klenk looks to further evolve AM automation with an eye on the energy sector

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The potential for additive manufacturing is as great as the challenges that adopters have to face in order to integrate it into an automated production workflow. Few companies in the world have done more research on these issues as Siemens and few people have studied the industrialization of AM as much as Ulli Klenk, former Head of OEM Strategy at Siemens Digital Factory

After working for years on the industrialization of additive manufacturing from a product supplier’s viewpoint, Mr Klenk is now looking at AM from the adopter’s side. His goals are solving the short, medium and long term issues that large adopting industries, such as the energy sector, face when looking at AM solutions. Mr Klenk’s participation at the upcoming IN(3D)USTRY congress seeks to build on his experience in order to favor the free flow of information in the global AM community and accelerate adoption.

Within Siemens there are various divisions working on this and they are split into two major areas: one is the supplier side, where Siemens provides its software, services and expertise, and the other is the industrial side, which works at close contact with large adopters. Mr Klenk is now taking his experience into the energy sector. Within this field Siemens has worked on some of the biggest case studies in terms of part production. As far back as 2013, Siemens Energy in Finspång (Sweden) was already using EOS metal AM technology for gas turbine burner repair parts.

Since the beginning of this year I have been working within our energy division,” Mr Klenk explained. “Coming from this user perspective, from the supplier perspective, I am now actually tasked with implementing 3D printing in several production processes. Which means we will be working on implementing AM into turbine manufacturing and, more generally, into the production of very large parts.”

Just about everyone agrees that the possibilities are enormous however the road ahead is still long. “I’m fully enthusiastic about the technology,” says Mr Klenk. “the optimized topologies and geometries – as well as the materials that are now actually feasible – are amazing. We are now at the point where we can finally take the next step into full part optimization and the challenge we face now is that the processes are still not very stable. They are physical processes but they also integrate a chemical component which makes them more complex to validate than milling. At the same time, we need to consider that injection molding also has a chemical component to it”.

Unlike traditional analogue, formative processes such as injection molding and die casting, however, additive manufacturing has a larger digital element to it which enables an unprecedented level of process simulation and process monitoring. This makes it more advanced than any other manufacturing process however it is not sufficient to resolve the issue of process automation and integration. “Let’s put it this way,” Mr. Klenk illustrates, “if we have a monitoring system in place today and this monitoring system detects that one layer is incorrect, what happens then? What conclusions do we make? How do we deal with the error and what is the solution?”

Siemens also partnered with Stratasys in order to work on integrating additive manufacturing in a more automated factory workflow.

Today the manual quota in the process chain of additive manufacturing is still high. The same goes for waste and for the costs of quality control. Mr Klenk’s vision is that “we need a holistic understanding of processes, materials, and of the exact physico-chemical activities in a process, of mechanisms, and last but not least, postprocessing and downstream quality controls. Only a completely informed process including upstream chains and postprocessing can be automated in a useful way. In order to develop additive manufacturing from today’s laboratory scale towards a mature, industrial technology, we need a holistically conceived and prepared automation – up to the recycling of superfluous material.”

Mr. Klenk will reveal the details of Siemens Energy Sector’s latest projects with AM at the IN(3D)USTRY event in Barcelona next October 3-5. Much of the work necessary to industrialize 3D printing will require many more years of research and testing. However, there are some aspects of process optimization which can be addresses in a much shorter time frame. For example, the issue of worker’s safety.

I think one of the very first things that we have to consider when we build part is the safety of the people involved,” Mr. Klenk says. “When we look at production today, we realize that the powder material is unhealthy. We have conducted extensive research on workers’ contamination around the machines over a week and the results were disastrous. This is an important issue which we can solve by increasing process automation and doing so will inevitably help the entire AM industry evolve.”

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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