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Everyone is talking about 3D printing, additive manufacturing (AM), and generative multi-layer construction technologies. Nevertheless, this is a long way from meaning the classic machine tool is going to be sent away. EMO Hannover 2017 will be showcasing an array of production technology – including alternative processes.

Carl Fruth has long since achieved his goal of “transferring competences in the field of multi-layer technologies into product manufacturing,” and during a Technology Day featuring an in-house exhibition at FIT AG (Fruth Innovative Technologies) in Lupburg, Germany, in addition to inaugurating an office building, FIT also opened the first additive factory.

The “FIT factory is even on an international comparison unique in terms of manufacturing capacity and automation technology, and is intended to serve as a template for further additive manufacturing facilities of the FIT Group,” says Carl Fruth, founder and managing board chairman at FIT. Fruth is a pioneer of AM, who 10 years ago was certain the future multi-layer construction technology would be the norm in everyday production operations and the sale of milling machines or injection molding machines would inexorably decline.

However, we are still a long way off from the day where the traditional machine tool is numbered, confirmed by the innovations that will be highlighted by exhibitors at EMO Hannover 2017. One of the impediments to the widespread adoption of additive technology in individualized mass production was described several years go by Fruth as the “lack of production-suited manufacturing lines.”

Yet, this has changed in the meantime.

Fruth states that, “There are a large number of delicate seedlings: many of our customers would like to use additive technologies to manufacture replacements for existing components. But this is possible only in a very few cases. Usually, a new component has to be developed and very often the adjoining components of the system as well. First, many companies are deterred by the outlay involved, and second, of course, you need specialized development competence for this new production technology.”

The country needs new designer engineers
When traditional design guidelines no longer apply, a new generation of design engineers is needed, keen to embrace function-driven thinking.

According to Fruth, AM means that, “in the design phase not only the geometry, but also the material properties and the component costs are essentially specified in full. This complexity necessitates specialized training and experience. Moreover, up to now there is no software tool in existence that provides all the requisite functions. So, firms have to work with different, complex software tools. Very often, information is lost in transitioning from one tool to another. When you need up to eight iterations for developing a component, the substantial outlay involved is obvious.

“The competences required, moreover, are possessed not by a single design engineer, but only by a team. In traditional companies, the competences concerned are divided up among different departments – a situation exacerbated by squabbles about prerogatives and uncertainty. Innovative companies, however, also see this as an opportunity: ‘We support our customers in this process, and train them component by component to achieve maximized performance in AM design. That’s why we also call these products ADM – Additive Design and Manufacturing.’”

Read more: Additive manufacturing & the classic machine tool