3D printing for mobile machinery manufacturers

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, has become a key concept in the off-highway industry. All major construction, forestry and agricultural machinery manufacturers, as well as their OEM partners, are using this approach for prototype and small batch production and some have even fully integrated 3D printing into mass production.

 From November 12 to 18, SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS in Hannover, Germany, will be the leading venue for all suppliers and users of mobile machinery interested in industrial 3D printing.

Custom availability, adaptability, small production quantities, and a high degree of freedom in shape and form – additive manufacturing can drastically shorten development times and produce highly complex component geometries cost-efficiently. The latest developments are attracting increasing interest from off-highway industries and, at SYSTEMS & COMPONENTS, 3D printing will be vacating its rapid prototyping niche and preparing to significantly change the industrial value chain across the board. Unlike conventional subtractive manufacturing, in which material is removed by milling, turning or grinding, additive manufacturing applies material layer-by-layer to form a component. Various processes are used, and the spectrum of materials ranges from plastics and metals to ceramics.

 New design freedoms in development

In addition to the familiar powder- and wire-based technologies, exhibitors at the Hannover exhibition center are also working on innovative material combinations to push the limits of 3D printing. For one, they are using ‘binder jetting’ technology, an additive process for the rapid production of sand casting molds, to be used for high-quality casting of components such as axle housings or wheel hubs. Making 3D molds with sand has decisive advantages in lightweight construction. In addition, the casting design can be more complex than usual since the need for parting lines is greatly reduced.

Printing equipment capable of continuous production of sand castings has already been integrated into the production lines of foundries and prototype workshops working in the off-highway area, as well as OEMs .

Additive manufacturing in industrial use

An example of industrial additive manufacture is vehicle-specific control consoles, such as those manufactured by IBL Hydronic, who, in just one month, completed the development of a control module and presented it to the customer in the agricultural engineering sector. The housing parts were printed using SLS, assembled and fitted with a leather armrest. To make it not only functional but also visually appealing, the surface was textured and the components dyed and polished. The result: a leather-like texture that visually enhances the surface and rounds off the design. For smaller individual parts such as the white and orange keys, stereolithography (SLA) was used, an additive technology that allows the printing of transparent components. In this way, illuminated warning lights could be integrated directly into the keypad.

Machines in a new weight class

From heat exchangers to heat sinks, for fully functional prototypes or tool and fixture construction, 3D metal printing enables the creation of components with complex geometries, hollows, undercuts and detailed internal structures, without the use of additional tools, other input materials or additional assembly steps, all directly from a digital design file, the CAD model, at minimum weight and maximum stiffness. The process uses a focused laser beam to melt a metal powder and, as the metal solidifies, a new layer of powder is applied, resulting in the manufacture of a homogeneous 3D component.

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