Expert Interview: Armin Wiedenegger, voestalpine High Performance Metals GmbH
31 January 2019
Metal 3D printing is continuing to make inroads into manufacturing. Today, the technology is increasingly becoming an effective production solution for high-value, low-volume applications in a range of industries. However, the continued evolution of metal 3D printing greatly depends on the development of new materials.
One company advancing material development for metal 3D printing is voestalpine, one of the largest steel-based technology companies in Europe.
After several years of building its expertise in AM materials at its High Performance Metals division, in 2016, voestalpine opened its Additive Manufacturing Centre in Düsseldorf. Since then, the company has continued to ramp up its efforts with the opening of sites in Taiwan, North America and Singapore.
In this week’s Expert Interview, AMFG is in conversation with Armin Wiedenegger, Strategy & Business Development for Additive Manufacturing at voestalpine High Performance Metals GmbH, to learn more about its metal AM powders, cutting-edge applications and success stories.
Could you tell me about voestalpine?
Voestalpine is a global technology and capital goods group that offers a unique combination of material and processing expertise.
It’s a leading partner to the automotive and consumer goods industries in Europe as well as the aerospace and oil and gas industries worldwide, offering products and system solutions using steel and other metals.
Our Additive Manufacturing activities are part of the voestalpine Group’s High Performance Metals Division, which is the global market leader for tool steel and a leading provider of high-speed steel, valve steel, and other products made of special steels, as well as powder materials, nickel-based alloys, titanium, and components produced using additive manufacturing technologies.
What are the challenges involved in developing materials for metal 3D printing and how long does the process take on average?
Developing powder materials for metal additive manufacturing is a very time-consuming process.
For example, developing a totally new alloy could easily take between 1 to 3 years. Although optimising existing alloys for improved 3D printability could be done faster, this still requires up to a year of research, testing and validation.
Obviously, high-quality metal powders are very important for successful metal 3D printing. To make consistent metal parts, you need powders with closely packed, spherical metal particles of a similar size.
To achieve this, metal powders are carefully fabricated using a gas atomisation process.
At voestalpine, it takes a couple of weeks to make metal powder from an existing alloy using this atomisation process.
The High Performance Metals Division has several 3D printing centres around the globe. Which metal 3D printing technologies are you currently using?
There are two metal additive manufacturing technologies in use at our additive manufacturing centres: Powder Bed Fusion and Direct Metal Deposition (DMD).
With Powder Bed Fusion, we can produce more delicate designs. However, the process tends to be slower and more expensive when compared to DMD.
With regards to DMD technology, we use metal materials in both powder and wire form. However, while the technology is cheaper than Powder Bed Fusion, it’s less flexible in terms of design capabilities.
Are you targeting specific industries or verticals?
Our main targets are the toolmaking and the oil and gas markets which, we believe, can greatly benefit from metal 3D printing.
Can you share some of voestalpine’s success stories?
One of the successful applications of metal additive manufacturing at voestalpine is the lightweight engine hood hinges we developed for use in vehicles.
This component, known as the LightHinge+, was developed in partnership with automotive engineering firm, Edag, and simulation software company, Simufact.
In traditional manufacturing, the production of engine hood hinges is very expensive, not least because of the high assembly and tooling costs involved.
Additionally, such a component made conventionally weighs around 1.5 kg. Since a vehicle requires around 40 of them, this considerably adds to the vehicle’s weight.
So we harnessed the power of topology optimisation and simulation tools to optimise the weight of the component. The geometry required was only possible to produce using Powder Bed Fusion.
When designing parts for the PBF process, they’ll typically require a lot of support structures to enable a successful print. However, support structures generate a lot of material waste and result in laborious post-processing.
So support structures was another area we wanted to optimise. The results were great:
Using Simufact’s simulation software helped us reduce the volume of support structures from over half of the part’s total weight to under 18%. Additionally, optimisation techniques allowed us to minimise the time and effort required to remove the supports during the post-processing stage.
Eventually, we were able to achieve weight savings of 50 % compared to a component made with sheet metal fabrication.
How do you see the current state of the additive manufacturing industry and how do you see it evolving?
Increasingly, we’re seeing additive manufacturing moving from single piece production to serial production. This points to the growing recognition of the technology as a manufacturing solution.
What challenges still need to be overcome to accelerate the adoption of metal 3D printing?
AM faces several challenges on its path towards a production-viable technology.
Firstly, production speeds need to improve.
Secondly, the cost of equipment needs to come down to unlock the technology for broader markets.
Finally, the AM value chain needs to be more consolidated to achieve a wider adoption of metal 3D printing. This includes the integration of different software solutions, from design to manufacturing to management, as well as optimisation of the post-processing stage.
To learn more about voestalpine’s High Performance Metals Division, visit: https://www.voestalpine.com/highperformancemetals/en/