In November, the Additive Manufacturing Hub and AMTIL led an Australian delegation on a tour of various manufacturing sites in Germany that are utilising additive manufacturing in their processes, to complement the group’s attendance at the Formnext exhibition in Frankfurt. Among the delegates was Matthew Harbidge of Charles Darwin University; here Matthew shares  his notes on what he saw on the tour.

The tour offered some excellent insights into the ways that others are engaging in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry, some of the general practices being implemented, and ideas regarding the future of the technology. We visited three sites: Bosch, FIT, and Toolcraft.

Bosch – Integrating 3D printing 
The Bosch facility was a modern mass production site that utilised CNC machines, robots, and people all working together to produce three main parts: high-pressure fuel pumps, gearbox solenoids, and drive-by-wire throttle systems. Currently the facility only uses “digital twin” for very small production runs and compares the real run to the simulated production run. They do not digitally trace their production components.

Bosch uses three main pieces of software for monitoring and reporting of the facility – these are  Nexeed MES, PowerBI, and Tableau. With these packages they can monitor machine outputs, variations and downtime, and plan maintenance. They are in the early stages of applying machine learning to solve production issues pre-emptively.

In the last three years Bosch has expanded its facility by adding in some AM machines: Dremel plastic printers, with Concept Laser and 3DS metal printers. All production line equipment was housed in plexiglass and aluminium extrusion frames. All parts are labelled internally with QR codes, and stations are set up around the facility that can scan or produce labels. The printer work area is fully enclosed for powder control, and they have a large amount of signage and labelling for personal protective equipment (PPE) and procedures. They currently outsource all their heat treatments except for aluminium.

The parts that they had on display were a mix of standard geometry test prints and actual Bosch parts. Our hosts mentioned some of the benefits of 3D printing and how they could be applied to some of their existing parts or be used to improve them. However, their main display part had no features that could not have been done with a CNC machine (curving internal geometries) and appeared to have a casting line.

The facility itself was excellent, with a very high value placed on safety, and obvious knowledge of powder-handling standards. A lot of time and money has been spent to reach this level. However, from a production side it appears they are still at the very early stages, and unsure of how AM will tackle any problems that they have.

FIT  One of the world’s largest printing bureaus
FIT is one of if not the largest printing bureaus in the world for 3D printed components. They produce more than 400k unique parts every year, not including production runs of like parts. They’ve been operation now for more than 25 years and produce plastic, metal, and other materials such as sand casts.

The opening presentation showed some of FIT’s print philosophies that they believe set them ahead of the crowd. They believe first in understanding the part function, translating this into a physical specification, not a design, then deciding what material and process should be used to create this part. They understand that AM isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of manufacturing, yet.

FIT has developed their own in-house monitoring software, which monitors their printers, part completion, and part layout in the machine, but does not individually monitor or track individual parts. They have a “booking” system used for allocation orders and times to equipment, but I couldn’t see what software it used.

Their manufacturing is split into two warehouses: one for plastics, one for metals. In the plastic warehouse they use a universal powder delivery system, connected to all the powder-based plastic printers, which reduces handling of loading machines. However, metal powder proved too variable or inconsistent to be delivered in this way. In the plastic area EOS powder transfer stations and in-house built stations were also used. For metal powder handling and transfer all equipment is designated to a specific material to prevent cross contamination. The metal warehouse was very clean. However, only one machine was running, which was quite odd given most of the prints would typically take several days.

FIT currently outsources most of its heat treating, though the recent installation of a new hot isostatic pressing (HIP) machine may change that.

The FIT team generally spend the day preparing the printers with powder, files, substrates, and processing printed parts. At night the printers are preheated and begin their printing. They do not typically fill the print volume with parts. Instead they prefer to shorten part lead times, at the cost of additional labour per print. For example, if they have two different parts with 5 each to be made, they won’t put them together in a print; they’ll allocate them to different printers to reduce the turnaround time. FIT also prefers for at least 30% of its printers to be unloaded at any time, so that if it receives a large order that requires a short turnaround time, the team can process it.

The FIT team clearly know how to produce parts for AM and have solidified the company’s place in the AM world as innovators who are ahead of the curve. I look forward to watching them grow and branch out in the future.

Toolcraft  Producing parts for multiple sectors
Toolcraft is also approximately 25 years old and prides itself on making precision components for a variety of industries. The company produces components for aerospace, medical, biomedical, turbines, and more. The team pride themselves on a sense of family and community, where every employee is given a key. The company has only recently begun adopting AM it has been  engaged in advanced manufacturing since the beginning. It produced the first flying parts for Boeing, Airbus, and Pratt & Whitney.

The first port of call during our site tour included the apprentice’s station and several very large Seco/Warwick vacuum furnaces. There were large, powered hexagonal workstations with tool cabinets located underneath. There was also a significant number of Hermle C30U and DMG  MORI CNC machines.

Toolcraft is partnered with Trumpf, so it has several pieces of equipment provided by Trumpf, including Trumark 7000 laser engraving machines, Truprint 3000 printers, TruCell LMD machines, and all Trumpf powder handling equipment. Toolcraft also has Concept Laser printers. It uses two types of co-ordinate measuring machines (CMMs), which are both used to ensure a part meets specifications: a Zeiss Accura CMM, equipped with a 1.5-ton granite block; and a DEA Global machine. All required parts are double-checked on the different machines.

Toolcraft implements constant environmental monitoring and replacement of the air in the AM rooms. In the AMA room, a portable workstation is used for each material, with the required PPE, a RuVac powder vacuum cleaner, and the print plans. Every tool and printer had an allocated material and serial number. There are individual powder handling rooms per material type, such as an Inconel room with both 718 and 625, a Ti room with 64 and CP, and an  aluminium room. Each material has its own full handling system to prevent cross contamination.

Toolcraft analyses both powder and part for grain sizes, composition, microstructure, and density, as well as static, dynamic, and fatigue-testing rigs for the components that they make. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see this section. Coupons are printed with all parts for testing, and dye pen NDT is conducted on printed parts and all flying CNC parts.

Toolcraft also has a printer booking/job system displayed on a large TV on the wall. It use Mastercam and Siemens NX Cam for its CNC machines, as well as SAP ERP production and part tracking for all of its machines. It is not as automated as the Bosch site.

The Toolcraft facility was in my opinion by far the best site. They had combined procedures, powder handling, manufacturing together seamlessly to produce real parts that are designed for their task. Parts that benefitted from CNC machining would be machined; parts that benefitted AM production would be produced via AM.

Led by AMTIL, and generously supported by the Victorian Government, the Additive Manufacturing Hub has been established to grow and develop Additive Manufacturing capability. To find out more about the AM Hub, contact John Croft, AM Hub Manager, on 03 9800 3666, or email