Future lies in modular manufacturing

When GSAT19 communications satellite was launched in July 2017, India’s first ever additively manufactured functional component went into space. The AM component was jointly engineered by EOS and Wipro.
Future lies in modular manufacturing
When GSAT19 communications satellite was launched in July 2017, India’s first ever additively manufactured functional component went into space. The AM component was jointly engineered by EOS and Wipro. Additive manufacturing (AM) is one of the key elements of the digital factory delivering a competitive advantage for many organisations. In this interview with IPF, Anand Prakasam, Country Manager of EOS India, shares his experience on GSAT19 satellite project and advantages of AM technology.
 
Your company has been a pioneer in 3D printing technology. Could please take us through this journey? 
EOS is the world's leading technology supplier in the field of industrial 3D printing of metals and polymers. Formed in 1989 in Germany, EOS is the pioneer and innovator for comprehensive solutions in additive manufacturing. EOS entered the Indian market in 1998 and is at the cusp of the manufacturing revolution in India. 
 
What we believe differentiates us in the Indian market is our consulting division called Additive Minds, which we started a few years ago. Additive manufacturing (AM) is one of the key elements of the digital factory delivering a competitive advantage for many organisations. Still, organisations struggle when implementing this disruptive technology as a production tool and sometimes slow to adopt AM because the necessary expertise is hard to find and this translates to potential investment risk. 
 
Additive Minds solves these problems and enables organisations to enjoy the full potential of AM by giving them all the know-how they need to outperform competitors.
 
What we have learnt from over 300 consulting projects in the last few years is that companies that decide to implement industrial 3D printing in their organisation normally go through four typical stages and very often they still need assistance in this process.
 
OS can offer support at all stages besides just machine trainings. These stages are finding the application; developing the application; ramping up the application and certifying & scaling the production. EOS has about 80% market share in metal 3D printing in India and has a presence in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, heavy engineering, tooling, healthcare including dental among others. Typical examples would be parts in aero engines, medical instruments, bone implants, parts for automotive and general engineering and spare parts production.
 
Where does India stand when it comes to adoption of AM in the manufacturing industry?
The adoption rate in India is catching up and at present the aerospace and space industry are the biggest markets for us. In fact, we have recently produced a component known as the North-West Feed Cluster 2x2, the first ever 3D manufactured component for ISRO, as part of our partnership with Wipro 3D. Additionally, we are seeing sectors such as healthcare, lifestyle, dental and tooling that are warming up to adopt AM solutions. Globally, we see that the adoption rate is particularly high in sectors such as medical, dental and aerospace. 
 
What are the factors that are driving the usage of additive manufacturing (industrial 3D printing technology) in India? Which industries are at the forefront of using AM technology in India?
After installing an AM process, the manufacturers and the product designing teams need to invest some considerable time understanding the technology, what it can do for their business and how this disruptive technology will probably also change their entire approach to design, manufacturing and their supply chain. There are three drivers that help companies create an additive manufacturing approach that transforms not only the production process, but potentially the business. These are identifying the right application, understanding materials science, and integrating additive manufacturing into the conventional production process. We are seeing the automotive industry really working hard towards integrating additive manufacturing.
 
In the past, the automotive industry mostly used the technology for RP applications and now is moving more towards manufacturing applications as costs-per-part improve. They have been trying to see how they can use this technology for all their engine manufacturing and other smaller components as well. As the learning of this technology takes time, additive manufacturing still cannot solely be used for complete production from a material and technology standpoint, as companies still want to understand how this can affect their product manufacturing in the future.
 
Which are the key factors (parameters) to be considered when opting for additive manufacturing? 
Each AM technology and machine model has a unique set of parameters and settings that can be modified by the device manufacturer. Customers opt for this solution as it provides the opportunity to personalise, reduce time, flexibility and cost-effectiveness, all this without compromising on the quality of the part manufactured with a repeatable part quality.
 
The general perception of the industrial 3D printing industry (additive manufacturing) is that it is expensive. We want to deliver innovation with quality - which has a price. The main reason behind it being expensive is that organisations do not add the designing in the planning stages of the product and most often end up using parts designed for other manufacturing processes such as casting, forging and machining. Today’s systems from EOS show a deep knowledge for system, software, processes and materials. The approach at the customer might only be one next step, meaning they should be understanding the technology with a very fresh approach before, for example, starting the design process.
 
Additionally, when there is an increase in the adoption, there will be a resultant increase in categories that will be manufactured from this technology, making machines cheaper. For example: Maybe a machine only for the tooling industry.
 
Secondly, not all parts are for the additive process. Specific parts which are suitable for this process need to be selected. To support the customers EOS offers consulting program (Additive Minds) where we help customer to develop a template as to how they should screen parts keeping the technical and economic considerations in minds. 
 
What are the advantages and shortcomings of additive manufacturing?
Not all parts are for the additive process. We must select the parts which are suitable for this process. Since there is not much awareness people consider the wrong parts and do not see the benefit immediately. In many industries, the production of specialist tools is one of the most expensive aspects of the production processes. It is generally expensive, time consuming and very technically demanding to use conventional processes.
 
EOS has the solution. Based on additive manufacturing, EOS enables single parts or individualised serial products to be manufactured quickly, cost-effectively and flexibly - even in small batch sizes and do not need any extra tools. EOS also helps businesses to achieve their sustainability targets. Overall, additive manufacturing enables more efficient, faster production with less scrap or waste. This reduces CO2 emissions which in return reduces the overall carbon footprint for the company. Besides these advantages using this technology allows maximum freedom of design, design-driven manufacturing, highly productive tools, faster amortisation, flexible manufacturing processes, for example the choice between hybrid construction/non-hybrid construction, function integration and reduction in wage costs thanks to standalone processes.
 
You have been associated with ISRO project, wherein an AM engineered component was used. Could you share with us your experience of this project? Also, what is the significance of this event for AM technology in India?
Recently, EOS and Wipro's collaborated to engineer a component for ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) known as the North-West Feed Cluster 2x2 - also India’s first ever additively manufactured functional component to go into space. This component was a part of GSAT19 communications satellite and was launched in June 2017. The satellite used 3D printed components along with hybrid CFRP (Carbon fiber reinforced polymer) technology on ISRO safelights. 
 
Feed cluster is something which takes the RF (radiofrequency) waves from the space and then amplifies them and sends it back to earth or the transmitter in the earth. Originally, these feed clusters were manufactured in several different parts and then welded together and assembled. Because of all the welding and joining, they were a lot of leakages of this RF waves. Whereas with the help of additive manufacturing, organisations are able to redesign parts and apply functional integration. As such the number of single parts that needed to be assembled before are now designed into one part and manufactured by AM.
 
This was the first advantage and the second was that there was no leakage of RF. Also, we made the part lighter. Typically, for every gram saved you save about $10,000 in the space industry. So from a weight reduction perspective also it was a big advantage for them. This satellite carried the first functional additive manufactured part into the space from India.
 
What are the emerging trends in additive manufacturing?
A concept that we truly believe in is ‘The Factory of the Future’ or smart factories that will be hybrid in structure, integrating both conventional and additive technologies for the best parts. This is going to direct the manufacturing industry towards better quality of parts, increased productivity, quality control, size and scalability of systems, automation of processes and the integration of machines for faster output. 
 
From the technology perspective this means we are currently working on the technology factors that are essential for serial manufacturing. The future also lies in cell-based manufacturing or modular manufacturing where there could be several systems working in a network with a single raw material supply of powder. This modularisation could also bring about the significant cost advantage. Currently, everything is being done only with one machine and if someone needs another machine, you have to buy all the units again. This is changing and EOS is pioneering this modular system concept.
 
Are auto OEMs & auto component makers using AM technology (globally and in India)? Are you catering to auto industry in India?
In the age of cutting-edge technologies and stiff competition, organisations around the globe need to accept and adapt to far more advanced technologies that would help them innovate faster and better than their competitors. At EOS we are instrumental in helping our partners including OEMs service their customers in the best way possible through best in class products and technology expertise. One of the new additions is our consulting service Additive Minds, which is proving to be a success for OEMs.
 
One of the leading sectors in India for us is automotive who are seeing the advantages of additive manufacturing and are increasingly open to experimenting with the technology. 
 
What are your growth plans in India?
From an EOS perspective, Asia Pacific contributes 20% towards our global growth and India contributes 12% of that. The supply chain sector, such as in oil and gas, are aiming to reduce the number of spares which they have to stores as inventory or insurance spares. 
 
It is not only oil and gas but also from heavy engineering such as cement industry and different industries which are trying to reduce the storing of spare parts and have digital inventory. So that's what we are we looking for at the moment.
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