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With the installation of an industrial 3D printer that is unique in Europe to date, the scientists at the Fraunhofer IWS are focusing their research and development work on complex, large-volume components such as combustion chambers for hydrogen energy systems, blade wheel housings for turbines and other complex machine components or tools. The additive manufacturing system from the manufacturer Farsoon is based on selective laser beam melting in a powder bed. It can produce particularly large components with complex geometries layer by layer from aluminum, titanium, nickel, iron, copper and other metallic powders.

New manufacturing processes and value chains

With this process, the Fraunhofer IWS - together with the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) - is attempting to establish new manufacturing processes and value chains for the time "after coal" in the joint project "SpreeTec neXt" in Lusatia, among other places. New business models for the repair of agricultural, energy or industrial spare parts that are difficult to obtain are also foreseeable.

Unique selling points for regional SMEs

"With the help of the Fraunhofer IWS, SMEs in eastern Germany can develop unique selling points with this type of plant technology," emphasizes Institute Director Prof. Christoph Leyens. "Especially in the transformation region of Lusatia, projects like 'SpreeTec neXt' are giving new impetus to the regional economy." 3D printers have long been in use in the region, but these devices are usually limited in their capabilities: for example, they are only specialized in plastic prototypes, can only produce comparatively small metallic components or large, but less complex-shaped components using other manufacturing processes such as deposition welding. Modern 3D printers such as those at the Fraunhofer IWS are now set to reshuffle the cards: The new AM system can generate components that measure up to 62 by 62 by 110 centimeters.

Decentralized additive manufacturing for small batch sizes or hard-to-obtain replacements

"This system offers completely new possibilities for additively manufacturing even very large components with complex geometries in high quality," explains Dr. Lukas Stepien, who heads the powder bed processes and printing group at the Fraunhofer IWS. "This opens up opportunities for the use of industrial 3D printing in even more industries and applications." For example, decentralized additive manufacturing (AM) is conceivable wherever new components and tools are constantly needed for small batch sizes or replacement components are difficult to procure. This is interesting for the automotive, aerospace, energy plant and tool manufacturing industries, among others. In future, large-scale AM systems of this kind could also facilitate the rapid procurement of spare parts for high-quality agricultural machinery in the agricultural sector.

New innovation center also aims to strengthen regional structural change

As part of "SpreeTec neXt", the project partners want to establish an innovation center in Lusatia by 2029 that will strengthen regional structural change. To this end, BTU and Fraunhofer are working together in the field of additive manufacturing. The Fraunhofer IWS is contributing its special expertise in additive manufacturing, process development and material and component analysis. BTU is primarily dedicated to basic research for AM processes. The plan is to permanently establish a joint laboratory between Fraunhofer and BTU in Lusatia in order to support sustainable economic development. The team will then advise small and medium-sized companies from the transformation region on the use of advanced additive manufacturing technologies, train employees of such companies and support the growth of an AM cluster in Lusatia. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will fund these specific sub-tasks of "SpreeTec neXt" with five million euros each.