Additive manufacturing - a revolutionary new technology
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is having a profound effect on industrial manufacturing processes. Saab is a key member of AMEXCI, a consortium of leading Swedish industrial names that seeks to harness the enormous potential of this exciting technology.
Additive Manufacturing Excellence for Industry (AMEXCI) was founded in 2017 on the initiative of Marcus Wallenberg, who brought together 11 of Sweden’s biggest industrial names to rise to the challenge posed by additive manufacturing. Saab was among the co-founders, along with the likes of ABB, Atlas Copco, Scania and SKF.
The role of AMEXCI is to act as a research, development and educational arm for its member companies. It has 16 different research programmes and so far has trained we have trained more than 500 people within the owner group and designed and manufactured more than 300 unique applications for additive manufacturing. Essentially, AMEXCI seeks to inspire Saab and the other members to take what they learn and integrate it into their own processes.
What is additive manufacturing and why is it important?
In the three decades since it began additive manufacturing has developed so much that it is transforming more and more industrial manufacturing processes worldwide.
“Additive manufacturing has really changed how certain business sectors do their manufacturing,” says Edvin Resebo, the CEO of AMEXCI.
“It has a completely different functionality and a lot fewer limitations than traditional manufacturing processes such as traditional subtractive machining or casting.” The process can translate the most complex computer aided designs and offer a precision, repeatability and material range that traditional ways do not possess.
The primary printing technology used by AMEXCI is laser powder bed fusion.
“You fuse a thin layer of metal powder using a fibre laser, and then you have these two-dimensional layers that you stack on top of each other and join together,” says Resebo. The result is a lighter part, but fibre laser printers also produce materials of up to 99.99% density, which is denser than if you made a part using a traditional casting process.
He adds that there are several clear benefits to using additive manufacturing instead of traditional industrial production methods.
“It offers flexibility of manufacturing: you don’t need tools and fixtures. It’s sustainable in that you don’t use more material than is necessary. There are cost savings possible in certain areas, too.
“Ultimately, additive manufacturing helps you do things that your competitors cannot. You can quickly realise functions or performance leaps that could have taken years or maybe even would have been impossible with conventional technologies.
“Instead of chasing marginal gains through incremental improvements, you can make a change that gives a 20 or 30% improvement – which can really sweep the floor with the competition.”
Saab and additive manufacturing
Now imagine producing a lighter but stronger aeroplane part, helping the plane to consume less fuel; a part for a weapon system that’s not only light and strong but also customised to the user geometry; or a key component of a submarine or surveillance system.
Additive manufacturing has enormous potential for Saab, so it’s no surprise that by the time AMEXCI began Saab was already researching the technology. This and the involvement of then-Saab CTO Pontus de Laval in establishing the consortium made it a natural step for the company to take a prominent role.
“Saab is perhaps the furthest down the line in how it structures its additive manufacturing work,” says Edvin Resebo, who also praises the openness of Saab and the other members to collaborate to take the technology further.
“Saab has AM groups across different business areas, with a representative from each in AMEXCI. And our main point of contact at Saab, Göran Backlund, from Saab Dynamics, has been working on internal collaboration in a very inspiring way.”
He adds, “Today, we’re working with nearly all Saab business areas. The weight and performance advantages and the way we use AM with the likes of combustion or radiowave technology can create structures that enable Saab to realise the full spectrum of those technologies.
“Saab generally makes low to mid-range batches of very complex parts. In some areas, performance is more significant than the cost per part. So, Saab is a tremendously good fit for additive manufacturing.
“We’re only getting started on our journey. There’s so much more to come.”