Additive Success

The rapid growth of industrial 3D printing is fundamentally based on the comprehensive digitization of all of its process steps and by the close collaboration of a wide range of companies. Siemens is now taking this technology to the next level. It is integrating all of its process steps in a digital platform that makes collaboration easier than ever.

By Hubertus Breuer

A Boeing 747 lifts off the ground at a speed of 280 kilometers per hour. The Bugatti Chiron super sports car can’t afford to leave the ground when it’s driving along at speeds well over 400 km/h. On the contrary, its constructors must do their utmost to ensure that the car always keeps its grip on the road, even under these extreme conditions. This contact is guaranteed by a hydraulically actuated control system that controls the tread pressure. The system extends and adjusts the rear wing as needed and opens and closes the air ducts – known as diffusers – on the underside of the car and adjusts the spring mount points of the chassis in order to constantly maintain the vehicle at the optimal angle and distance to the road surface.

Additively manufactured titanium components with reduced wind resistance – 53 percent lighter than the previous components.

This active aerodynamics system, which was already used in the Chiron’s predecessor, the Veyron, is unique in automotive technology. Until now, Bugatti has used traditional technology to manufacture it. Now, on the basis of many years of comprehensive experience, especially in the areas of carbon fiber reinforced lightweight engineering and additive manufacturing using metals, the automaker has worked closely with Siemens’ Digital Factory division to develop bionic 3D-printed titanium components and ultralight thin-walled carbon fiber tubes using a digital process chain. 


The first step in this process was for the Bugatti engineers to optimize the design of a “digital twin.” They then simulated the complete titanium additive manufacturing process and the carbon fiber composite winding process before digitally monitoring actual production. The result was additively manufactured titanium components with reduced wind resistance and carbon fiber composite components incorporating high-modulus fibers – 53 percent lighter than the previous components in the complete system.

This success was made possible by digital systems and by the collaboration of several companies. “Today additive manufacturing means integrating the production process, from design to post-processing, into a digital production chain,” says Karsten Heuser from Siemens’ Digital Factory division. “With the help of our software portfolio, we have now elevated this process onto a homogeneous platform that smoothly represents and simplifies the complete production process. Instead of having to deal with all kinds of software problems, engineers and designers can now fully concentrate on their product.”

3D-Printed Gas Turbine Burners

Today 3D printing, which can realize almost every conceivable shape in metal, plastic or ceramic, is being used in industry more and more often. This market, which had a volume of almost €10 billion in 2017, is expected to increase to approximately €26 billion by 2021. Meanwhile, industrial 3D printing has gone far beyond components such as the prototype Bugatti rear spoiler mechanism.

For example, Siemens can now additively manufacture complex burners for its gas turbines in series production, and Bugatti has been fitting an aluminum console with integrated cooling to its Chiron since the start of series production of the car. Cosmetics company Chanel is 3D printing mascara brushes in much greater numbers. And sporting goods manufacturer Adidas is now offering high-priced, high-end sneakers with additively manufactured soles.

Of course, a number of obstacles still remain to be overcome in order to realize additive manufacturing’s promise. Companies have to identify components that are suitable for 3D printing, they need the right know-how, and finally, digital management of the 3D printing process must run smoothly. Siemens’ Digital Factory software package makes all of this possible. That’s because it encompasses everything from product design to a virtual wind tunnel, secure data transmission, as well as control and monitoring of production machines. 

The central element of the Digital Factory production route is the digital twin, which is passed along through all of a product’s processing steps. It represents complex geometries, makes simulations possible, and can be used for a wide variety of printing processes. There’s no longer any need for time-consuming and error-prone conversions between various file formats. Moreover, alterations are never made in isolation. If a simulation reveals that corrections are needed, this information is incorporated into a product or component’s digital template for 3D printing. As a result, a process that used to take a year now requires only a few weeks. The goal of manufacturing “first time right” products – products that are already suitable for series production after just one 3D printing – is already within reach. 

Companies that want to succeed in this young ecosystem depend on cooperation, in spite of their competitive interests.

Working Together to Build a Revolution

It goes without saying that Siemens is already using its own Digital Factory portfolio. In addition to burners from Finspång, Sweden, it’s also manufacturing gas turbine blades in the UK. Other companies, such as Toolcraft, a German manufacturer of precision components, are using this integrated software suite to produce components that would not even be possible without 3D printing.

Of course, Digital Factory programs alone are not sufficient to successfully manufacture additive products. “Companies that want to succeed in this young ecosystem depend on cooperation, in spite of their competitive interests,” Heuser explains. That’s why Siemens is not only represented in many initiatives but also works with research institutes such as the RWTH Aachen University, companies such as Toolcraft, and 3D-printer manufacturers such as SLM, Trumpf, HP, DMG Mori, and EOS, whose new M300 metal printer uses Siemens control technology.

Several cooperation partners were also needed to create Bugatti’s rear spoiler mechanism. Siemens made its Digital Factory suite available to Bugatti so that it could transform its original idea into an innovative design. Further work was carried out by a number of long-term Bugatti partners. The Fraunhofer IAPT was responsible for 3D printing the component. The aerospace component developer and Tier 1 supplier EAST-4D produced the carbon fiber tubes, and Vogt Engineering, a prototype specialist, carried out the toolmaking and jig construction as well as the final machining and assembly.

Thanks to this kind of collaboration, industrial 3D printing is expected to continue to gain ground year by year. This won’t happen only because of improved and easily handled software. There will be improved printing processes, innovative materials will enter the market, new business models will be developed, and the range of courses offered at universities will be expanded. “The ecosystem for 3D printing will continue to grow,” says Heuser. “And that will ultimately benefit all of us.”


Hubertus Breuer

Picture credits: from top: picture 2: gettyimages

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