The digital transformation process is revolutionizing traditional manufacturing, with the production of one-off items as easy and efficient as mass production itself. At the Additive Manufacturing Plaza at HANNOVER MESSE, visitors can see what this looks like in practice at a number of exhibitor stands, including the Arburg company.
The process begins in a traditional manner, with a product designer designing an item – in this case a light switch – using CAD. The designer adapts the product according to the relevant requirements, adding his own design elements, perhaps even his "personal signature", to the product. At the end of the process, a laser applies a unique code to every light switch, one that is generated on the basis of individual customer data. Attendees at HANNOVER MESSE can observe the entire process chain in detail.
Individualized mass production
The first production step consists of creating a prototype of the light switch using the Arburg Freeformer. If the prototype passes all the tests, a tool from the GIRA company is used to manufacture the light switch rockers. Arburg’s "Allrounder" injection molding machine is employed for the mass production. A testing station from the Fuchs company assures the quality of the finished product, before a laser from the Trumpf company etches a code into the switch, enabling the individualized monitoring and checking of the product as it passes through the further stages. The next step is taken over by the Freeformer, which individualizes the product by applying two different materials to the rocker switch in an additive, drop-by-drop process, based on the customer’s own preferred design. Packing robots from the FPT Robotik company then get the individual products ready for shipping, furnishing each package with a unique QR code. The customer can scan this via smartphone to view the processing history of his or her product. Or even reorder it with a single tap. This system allows manufacturers to maintain the ideal batch size capacity.
"Plastic instead of ink"
While the core process of the above-described manufacturing scenario consists of traditional injection molding, the revolutionary aspect involves having the part, not the operator, tell the machine what to do. A 3-D printer, for example, requires only the relevant 3-D CAD data (in STL format) for the remaining steps to be carried out automatically. The printer receives the control data and executes the process step-by-step. "What is special about injection molding is its flexibility," explains Arburg Managing Director Helmut Heinson. "It can handle a number of different source materials, leading to a better fit for the various parts. You can use this process to make virtually any shape – not just for prototypes, but also for completely functional end products," he adds. A further highlight is that Arburg essentially inverted the main functional principle of additive manufacturing by having the Freeformer move the component instead of the nozzle, which remains stationary. This allows the production of complex geometric shapes without needing a supporting substructure.
Attendees at HANNOVER MESSE can witness the entire process chain first-hand and even have their own, individualized product produced – at the Additive Manufacturing Plaza .