Founded in 1989, EOS says it has mastered the key interaction between lasers and powder materials in additive manufacturing (AM). The company offers everything from a single source, including systems, materials and process parameters - all coordinated to enable reliable high part quality and a decisive competitive edge for its customers.
Q) Firstly, what are the types of trends and demands placed on your company by today’s aerospace customers?
The key requirements are performance, weight reduction and flight safety. This also applies to AM. Performance is achieved when the required part quality can be achieved at the target cost of production. Weight reduction is an area where AM has proved to be very effective, allowing to optimise structures and putting material exactly where it is needed, as well as integrating functions. Flight safety is achieved when demonstrating that the manufacturing quality is reproductible in time, and fully under control. We are investing a lot of effort to deliver solutions which allow those requirements to be achieved.
Q) What are today's customers looking for in terms of AM related performance solutions?
The aerospace industry has been an early adopter of AM technology and has now reached the level of maturity to actually ramp up serial production of flightworthy parts. Now that we’ve demonstrated that our technology can deliver the required quality, the industry is looking for fully automated production solutions, not only to reduce the manpower costs, but also for the benefit of health and safety. There is also a strong demand for process monitoring and control solutions in a digital factory environment, where all relevant quality assurance data can be recorded and post-processed. We’re in a position to provide solutions to all of the above.
The aerospace industry is also looking for processes and solutions for high performance materials, polymers and metals. To meet this demand, we’ve invested heavily in R&D to bring to the market solutions for hard to weld alloys and composite materials for instance.
Q) How mature is the current additive manufacturing supply chain?
The AM supply chain is continuously maturing. This is achieved thanks to a virtuous collaboration between the end user OEMs, the manufacturing solution suppliers and the AM manufacturing service companies. EOS is dedicated to not only thinking about our customers’ expectations and feedback, but also to consider our customers in our development roadmap activities.
Q) Is AM restricted by the size of parts and the speed in which it can deposit materials?
Of course there are limitations, but we strive to push the boundaries. However, we do this with a strong commitment not to jeopardise the essential: a reproducible high build quality. A typical aircraft includes many large size parts that couldn’t be manufactured additively, but conversely, with the current build size and build speed capacities, we’re far from having explored all the potential aerospace AM applications.
Q) And how much is AM being used to print tools, say for sending parts over the wire to support an aircraft on the ground (AOG)?
Over time, we have seen an important use of AM technologies to quickly and efficiently produce tools for the production needs of the factories. This will surely develop into models where tools, being designed centrally, will be built locally where needed in the field. Space agencies are even considering building tools on demand in spacecraft in the near future.
Q) With its ability to print complex, difficult-to-machine parts requiring multiple operations and entire subassemblies, is AM truly the way forward or are cycle times and ‘flight ready’ part qualification an issue?
This is one of the main benefits of AM - and the aerospace industry understood this early on. As a matter of fact, the field of aero-engines and gas turbines is probably the one that has adopted AM production the most, and this is definitely thanks to the AM capability to integrate functions and reduce assembly time.
Q) Bring me up to speed with the latest news regarding your Additive Minds Academy?
The Additive Minds Academy’s mission is to develop innovative learning formats and impart application-oriented knowledge about industrial 3D printing in the shortest possible time. We offer short learning modules, e-Learning and Learning paths. Our first three learning paths are AM Data Preparation Specialist Metal, AM Application Specialist Metal and AM Data Preparation Specialist Polymer. Each learning path consists of e-Learnings, self-study, trainer feedback and practical experience.
The learning paths are designed so that the competence required for a new role in AM can be built up within only four to six weeks. The courses combine online and self-study with practical learning based on case studies. Participants are supervised throughout the course, receive one-on-one feedback, and can get in touch with other learners. At the end of the programme, they take a test to then be certified by the Additive Minds Academy.
Q) What particular aspect has helped your company get through the pandemic?
I see two key points: the ability of our industrial 3D printing technology to enable a distributed and flexible production, and the overall trend of digitalisation/digital work we as a company embraced – both internally and for our customers.
Everyone involved in supply chain manufacturing has had good reason over the last 12 months to think about how to protect their production flows and make them more efficient. When Covid-19 infection rates climbed drastically worldwide at the beginning of 2020, the potential of 3D printing to rapidly manufacture parts was quickly leveraged by many in order to produce medical equipment and machinery. Numerous countries and businesses have turned to local manufacturers and industrial 3D printing to help address the surge in demand for new products such as PPE, ventilators and nasal swabs.
One example for my ‘digitalisation’ point above: Additive Minds Academy was founded in April 2020, when the pandemic had just started. Covid was an accelerator towards digital learning. Last spring we offered our first ‘Home office training package’ which was very well accepted globally. The pandemic has shown that a rethink must happen when it comes to travel for training purposes. Through blended learning formats, online and remote training, the Additive Minds Academy is taking a step towards conserving resources and reducing not only travel times, but also training costs.
Q) Do you think companies should be using this pandemic enforced downtime to effectively ‘reset’ and look at how efficiently they are running their businesses?
Narrowing this question down to the aerospace industry and our technology, I think there are some things which can be and have been done. While aircraft are grounded during the pandemic, 3D printing is being employed for maintenance and cabin interior reconstruction. The halt of aircraft operation has paused the need for much of the flight-hour-driven and flight-cycle-driven maintenance. Nevertheless, a good part of maintenance is calendar-driven, including parking procedures. Where aircraft are, there is maintenance.
Also, airlines and maintenance organisations can use AM to develop value selling for those who still fly through new, personalised experiences for passengers, and to enable increased cargo volumes and new cargo delivery mechanisms. Hygiene enablers and smart, locally manufactured parts made with 3D printing technology can be the avenue of success. MROs will benefit from cheaper spare parts, lower part weight and better designs, as cargo operation moves more into the focus.
More generally, the air travel industry is at a turning point of its history. The epidemic has led the world to reconsider the way people travel. This has happened at a time where climate change is acknowledged to be a critical problem. Those two elements will undoubtably lead the aircraft industry to take new paths where AM will play a strong part.
Q) What kind of industry landscape will we be faced with when everything gets back to normal?
A change was already taking place, with distributed production vividly demonstrating what could be achieved through the pandemic. This development will continue in my opinion.
Industrial 3D printing allows for demand-driven production, streamlines processes, and makes the supply chain more robust. Products can be improved or newly created with regards to their complexity, functional integration, or lightweight construction. Combining industrial 3D printing with digital manufacturing structures that link machines and production control software systems in globally dispersed locations, results in new levels of transparency thanks to real-time reporting, flexibility, and performance.
Recent events are leading all manufacturers to realise they may not be as flexible as they realised – allowing 3D printing to shine on the global stage. A technology once seen as only suitable for prototyping is dealing with these challenges head on and leading to evolutions in product designs and manufacturing that simply are not possible with traditional techniques.
Q) Finally, any other thoughts on the future?
Sustainability is becoming increasingly more important across all industries. This is directly interlinked to the benefits of 3D printing and will play a huge role in 2021 and beyond. EOS is convinced that advanced manufacturing can be highly beneficial through its ability to produce locally and on-demand, reduce scrap waste compared to conventional manufacturing, and even potentially cut CO2 emissions.
In the coming years, 3D printing materials will also increasingly be made from renewable sources, such as EOS’ high-performance polyamide 11 plastic which is made from 100% renewable castor beans.