– 3D printing for metals is an exciting technique that has already existed for many years, but it is only now that the technology is mature at an industrial scale, therefore possibly being profitable for companies, says Jan Frostevarg, Senior lecturer at Manufacturing Systems Engineering at Luleå University of Technology, and the project leader of C3TS – arctic platform to Create, 3D-print, Test and Sell.
The new collaboration platform is about allowing companies to send their drawings to other network participants who then make the product, through 3D printing. For example, spare parts or low volume production of complete metal products for manufacturing companies. All project members will get a product adapted for and manufactured through 3D printing. There are a few factors that determine the choice between 3D printing of metal products and traditional manufacturing methods.
– Production volume, delivery time and production complexity are important factors. 3D printing has an advantage at small volumes, the delivery time is short and it is possible to make complex structures that otherwise would not have been possible. An important aspect is that instead of producing multiple component parts, it is possible to "print" a complete product, says Jan Frostevarg.
Enhances the process of 3D printing
The collaboration platform for 3D printing in the Arctic region is an Interreg Nord project with a budget of approximately 10 million SEK. In addition to coordinating the project, Luleå University of Technology participates as process developer. The 3D printing technique that will primarily be applied in the project is called SLM (Selective Laser Melting).
– SLM means that a layer of metal powder is placed at the bottom of a plate, then laser (or in a similiar process an electron beam) is used to selectively melt the powder surface. The procedure is repeated until the component is ready, after which any excess material is removed. We will study the process deeper in order to better understand process mechanics and thereby enable improvement.
Another important aspect of the project, led by the University of Oulu, is to learn how to design metal products to make the most of the new technology. It is important to know the design criteria for creating products that are mechanically operational.
Customized business models
Tromsø University is responsible for developing new business models and strategies. First, they will tailor business models to the project member companies, but also develop general guidelines for additional companies that want to join the collaboration platform. In February 2018, it is planned that the first version of the platform should be ready.
– In the first step of the project, we will contact the companies and build the network as well as producing a pallet of different communication tools. We will start out by understanding the needs of the companies and find out how they can and want to work together. There are not so many companies in the Arctic region that produce the same things, so the internal competition is not very large. We will create different modules so that companies can focus on the parts that are interesting to them.
Academy and industry in collaboration
After the universities have created the arctic 3D printing platform, they will take on a supporting role. One goal is that companies should feel responsible for continuing the collaboration after the project is completed.
– I strongly believe in the platform. By using digital solutions, we can benefit from the volume available in this area, despite the distances. When companies become better at using 3D printing for metal products, their competitiveness will increase, Jan Frostevarg concludes.