With the X1000 3D printer RWTH Aachen is analyzing latest requirements of industry for prototyping

Due to the rapid development of new additive manufacturing processes, industry is facing new challenges. In recent years the increasing professionalization of industry-standard manufacturing systems has been greatly influenced by manufacturers like German RepRap GmbH. Aspects such as process safety, high mechanical precision and the repeatability of results in particular are playing here an increasingly more significant role for industry. Added to this is the rapidly growing market for new technical materials, particularly plastics from the FDM sector, which are opening up completely new application areas. There is a clear trend here away from a pure prototype or display model to technically and thermally resilient components, which are used as function prototypes or even as part of an end product.

In the Aachen Center for Additive Manufacturing (ACAM) RWTH Aachen is examining the different specialist areas of additive manufacturing at different institutes such as the Institute for Plastics Processing in Industry and the Skilled Crafts (IKV) at the university. The IKV recently opened the new building extensions at Seffenter Weg 201 on the Melaten Campus. The Laboratory for Additive Manufacturing in the newly developed building area is an important advancement. The university has invested in state-of-the-art machinery including a large-capacity X1000 3D printer from German RepRap. Research work is planned at the new laboratory to primarily examine the fundamental physical processes that take place during additive manufacturing.

The Aachen Center for Additive Manufacturing (ACAM) was built to combine the expertise of the different specialist areas for additive manufacturing in one place. The center closely examines possible applications, the development potential and also the process technology of additive manufacturing using the German RepRap X1000. This is not only for research purposes: For RWTH, it is important to support industry in meeting the latest requirements and being optimally equipped to utilize new possibilities. Its aim is to demonstrate new approaches and thus be able to identify benefits and use them correctly if necessary. The university takes on a consultative role here. Different consultation projects to evaluate the benefits and disadvantages for companies are offered. For this RWTH Aachen carries out viability studies, joint studies and benchmarking processes. “We are examining the possibilities and the limits of the technology with the aim of supporting industry in using additive manufacturing processes effectively,” explains Nicolai Lammert, scientific assistant at the Laboratory for Additive Manufacturing at the IKV and system manager of the X1000. Young engineers are likewise being taught all the important aspects of this new additive manufacturing technology in a specially designed lecture series, so that they are optimally trained for their subsequent professional career after their studies. RWTH Aachen is striving to be a university that is recognized worldwide for its consistently excellent standards in research and education, that is training outstanding scientists as well as qualified management personnel for industry and society, both nationally and internationally.

IKV already entered the field of 3D printing in the nineties. At that time the focus was initially on stereo lithography for the manufacturing of prototypes and tools based in the rapid tooling concept. This indirect additive manufacturing was studied in conjunction with simultaneous engineering in order to accelerate development processes. Having now been a research area at IKV for decades, the total investment costs of around 11 million euros for the new building, funded by the university modernization program of the state of NRW and the RWTH Aachen, thus represent a fruitful investment for the future. The reason for investing in a German RepRap X1000 was primarily down to the system implementation: “The X1000 clearly stands out due to its large build envelope, which thus offers a definite unique selling point. However, the overall design of the machine, which was developed to industry standards, was also a key selection criterion. For example the manufacturing system also has a freely accessible control panel and an integrated extinguishing system. This point is particularly important for us in order to carry out system development based on a solid system technology,” Nicolai Lammert explains. The openness of systems from German RepRap GmbH was a key reason for choosing one of their machines. This is also a very important issue for IKV, says Nicolai Lammert: “German RepRap sells open systems. For us this is a fundamental requirement, since only with this are we able to conduct serious research. In our view, without the ability to change process parameters there is no possibility to carry out process research and thus also process development. We can make our experience with these systems accessible both to industry as well as to students. Our experience can also give rise to ideas for further developments.” Different materials are used for research. Amorphous as well as semi-crystalline thermoplastics are used in our tests.

This is leading to several developments which are being patented and used. In spite of the greatly varying disciplines and specializations, the centers of competence at RWTH Aachen conduct a very effective cross-disciplinary and cross-faculty cooperation in interdisciplinary centers. From now on the new laboratory for additive manufacturing will provide the location for the state-of-the-art and innovative research work in the technology which is also called 3D printing. However, importance will continue to be placed on tradition. “In Aachen old established traditions are combined with the latest technologies. This is due not least to institutes like the IKV, which has been making a name for itself for nearly 70 years on account of its modern and innovative research work. The Institute is of special importance for our state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where key technologies such as plastics technology play a major role. They are not only the strongest innovation driver, they are also by far the most powerful economic engine. In no other region of the world do plastic materials play such a key role in the economic development as they do in NRW,” said NRW’s Science Minister  Svenja Schulze.

The symbolic key for the opening of the new building was printed on the German RepRap X1000, and with a length of 100 cm, a width of 40 cm and a weight of 1400 grams is the largest part to date that has been produced at IKV with additive manufacturing in a single manufacturing step. The Performance PLA from German RepRap was used as the print material, enabling the object to be manufactured with 150 single layers in a print time of approx. 90 hours. With its large build envelope of 1000 x 800 x 600 mm (W/H/D) and a host of safety features, the X1000 provides the ideal basis for several industrial application fields such as (functional) prototype building, small batch production and mold building. “In line with the RepRap philosophy, the wide range of compatible materials and the openness of the system provide the perfect basis for our research in the field of material development and process stability in the FDM/FFF process,” Nicolai Lammert sums up.