Pilot line aims to produce over 10,000 individual and spare automotive parts per year
In March 2019, a consortium of 12 partners from across the additive manufacturing, automotive, research and industrial sectors launched the IDAM (Industrialization and Digitalization of Additive Manufacturing) project. At its core, the project addresses the limitations of laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) AM, including the lack of automation and high associated costs, that hinder the technology’s adoption for industrial, serial production in industries such as automotive.
The IDAM project was conceived in order to confront and overcome these challenges. The 20 million euro initiative is partially funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), and brings together 12 partners: GKN Powder Metallurgy, BMW Group, Aconity GmbH, Concept Reply GmbH, Myrenne GmbH, Intec GmbH, Kinexon Industries GmbH, Volkmann GmbH, Schmitz Spezialmaschinenbau GmbH, Chair for Digital Additive Production DAP, Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and Technical University of Munich, Chair of Metal Forming and Casting.
Each partner contributes in its specific area of expertise to help establish a pilot line for fully automated, industrial-ready additive production. The goal of IDAM is to build two pilot lines—one at GKN PM’s factory in Bonn, and the other at BMW Group’s facility in Munich—to demonstrate a digitalized and IoT-driven production line for 3D printing automotive components. When these pilot lines are up and running, the IDAM consortium aims to produce over 10,000 individual and spare parts per year, as well as at least 50,000 mass-produced components. One of the key points that set IDAM apart from other AM automation concepts is that it is end-user-based rather than supplier-based. The IDAM pilot line will encompass an open architecture, that can be adapted for any LPBF system.
Qualifying IDAM pilot line modules
GKN PM is a key member of the IDAM consortium and a host to one of the two pilot lines at its facility in Bonn, Germany. The company is leveraging its extensive knowledge of conventional powder metallurgy serial production as well as its experience with metal additive manufacturing to create an industrialized, automated factory setting. The modular approach within IDAM enables as well that further AM technologies within GKN’s portfolio (e.g. Metal Binder Jetting, Multi Jet Fusion) will be digitally connected and benefit from the new developments. Within the framework of the IDAM project, GKN PM acts as a critical bridge between the various project members, translating process development concepts from the academic side to application-focused strategies on the industry side. GKN PM and BMW also provide vital insight into the qualification process and support the SMEs who are developing the pilot line modules.
“We are now halfway through the IDAM roadmap,” says Sebastian Blümer, Technology Manager Laser AM at GKN Powder Metallurgy. “Currently, we are in the phase of checking the concepts of the pilot line modules. We are preparing to receive the remaining modules by the beginning of 2021, which will give us about a year to test and qualify them. In other words, the digital architecture is almost finished and we are now looking to the prototype phase. We are eager to get the pilot line modules connected with our internal systems to simulate the IDAM workflow.”
Establishing a digital architecture
Over the past year, the IDAM consortium partners have made progress in the creation of the digitalized AM pilot lines by tackling a range of topics, including pre-printing, printing, and post-printing phases. Among the most critical issues addressed at this stage of the project is the creation of a digital architecture, including digital standards and an IoT-connected overview of the AM process chain. A digital architecture that covers the entire AM process is critical to ensure communication between AM process chain modules and achieving the reliability required for serial production.
One of the biggest hurdles in adapting the digital architecture is creating a comprehensive solution for various LPBF systems that all vary in their interfaces to the process chain. The diverse nature of LPBF systems on the market makes it challenging to implement an interface that is both reliable and flexible. GKN PM is currently validating a recently acquired EOS M300-4 quad-laser system, testing out multi-laser exposure strategies and pushing the system’s productivity. The new metal AM system was installed at the company’s Bonn facility in May 2020.
GKN PM identifies industrial potential of DP 600 steel
As the IDAM project nears its halfway mark, one of the most notable advancements is the identification of a metal powder material by GKN PM that demonstrates excellent potential for industrialization in the automotive market. The material is DP 600, a dual-phase steel whose mechanical properties can be tuned using heat treatment methods.
The gas atomized material, which is now being validated on the EOS M300-4 system, demonstrates an elongation rate of 13% (as-built) up to 22% (with heat treatment), and a tensile strength of 950 MPA (as-built) up to 700 MPA (with heat treatment). These tunable properties make the dual phase steel material a good candidate for several structural automotive applications, as well as for other applications in the industrial market. Further potential to reduce cost per part can be achieved by using water atomized powders for future applications.