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Freeformer Arburg Carousel
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Cover with integrated TPE seal showing hard/soft material combination
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Showing TPE pivot
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Part built without support structures using 5-axis movement.
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Picture the scene in the Rapid News office. It's K week, half of the company are either already in or on their way to Düsseldorf. The last thing you are expecting is a groundbreaking AM machine to be launched. It's moulding this week...injection moulding, rotational moulding, extrusion machines not 3d Printing...How wrong can you be...?
As the Arburg press conference got underway on Tuesday, pictures emerged that had the TCT team scrambling for more information, It is an additive machine right? OK, what tech, what material, how much, when can we see it....as I'm in Germany this week with my Interplas hat on, it made sense for me to see if I could get an audience with some senior people at Arburg and ask a few of those questions.
A few emails exchanged and I had arranged some time in some very busy schedules, everyone wants to talk Freeformer with Arburg at K so we were lucky to get some time on their huge stand - which was bigger than some entire exhibitions I have been to!
I started by asking Herbert Kraibühler what pointed Arburg towards additive manufacturing and how long has the machine been in development? "We work very closely with our customers, and we have seen in the last ten years more and more demand to produce low volume, high quality parts and also for some one-off parts. These small changes in requirements were the catalyst for us and started us thinking about developing a machine using our injection moulding expertise."
Interesting choice of language to note here, and it is mirrored in the brochure - this machine is pitched as a production machine, make no mistake. Its all about customised production, production efficiency and such. Sure it can do prototypes but this is almost a by-product.
Kraibühler continues "We started with our first ideas in 2004! Yes, it is a long time, but we needed this time to establish the process of building with small drops in different layers - and in the beginning it was not clear how the materials would behave, we worked hard on the physical characteristics and properties until the flow of material was right, this took until around 2007 at which point the development started in earnest."
Arburg have spent substantial time on this project - but they have a huge name, and a huge reputation...not something you want to damage with a lack of R&D.
Having had the project going for almost 10 years I assumed that there would be several machines in place already, even if they are on a beta basis. This was met with smiles all round. They are working with customers for sure, but they wont say who or what they are doing with them. I guess that is fair enough, it is still early days. My hunch is they have had working beta sites for several years - there is a quiet assuredness that comes from knowing they are on to a winner.
That said they are keen to point out there is still work to be done, particularly in partnership with these existing sites. I asked when the machines will be ready to buy? This was one of the questions that came up on Twitter this week. Answer? Next year, probably about mid-year.
I also asked about the impact Arburg feel this will have on rest of the 3d printing market. Kraibühler was diplomatically coy on this, and again no real surprise there. I will say however as an observation that it is interesting that so many of the 3d printing sector have been looking at the consumer and desktop markets in the last 2 years. Significant developments in the industrial machine arena have been few and far between, I wonder if Arburg's freeformer might be the catalyst to reignite substantial R&D spending for this part of the market?
I also asked how this new product would fit into the Arburg business model. Kraibühler responded, "Our focus initially will be on our existing customers requirements for smaller volume batch production, freeformer is a complimentary technology to our injection moulding products and as such will form part of the Arburg offering, although we will have some dedicated sales and technical resource to work on freeformer."
So understanding a bit of the background, lets get into the technology. I asked Oliver Kessling to fill in the details.
"Our process is Arburg Plastic Freeforming (AKF). It is a patented process that builds parts layer by layer using plastic droplets. We are using standard granulated material, as you would in an injection moulding machine so no expensive materials. So far we are using ABS, polyamide, polycarbonate and elastic materials (TPE/TPU), but you can use wider variety of materials, you just need to understand the parameters of the material but this R&D can be done either by a customer or by us."
"We can use two materials, so a hard material in combination with a soft material, and in addition a big difference with our machine is that essentially we move the component, while the nozzle that deposits the material remains stationary. You can use either 3 or 5 axis movement but this means we have no support structures for undercuts or complex geometries."
Some more specifics. The maximum part size at the moment is 230 mm x 130 mm x 250 mm - a variety of nozzle sizes ranging from 150 microns to 250 microns gives you a range of accuracy and speed. Layer height is in the range of 0.2–0.3 mm and accuracy to plus/minus 0.15 mm.
It uses standard STL file formats, and in terms of price I have heard rumours of low six figures but this was not confirmed by Arburg during this interview.
It looks great, the outer casing is well designed. It will plug and play into an office environment if you want to run it in your design studio, there is no dust or emissions to worry about. However it wouldn't look out of place in a factory either - and thats where I expect to see it most of the time.
So is it a game changer? If it delivers on its potential and promises, and I see no reason why it wouldn't, this is Arburg after all. Then, yes, I think it is. For the simple fact that it uses standard commercial granulate which is a real breakthrough and additionally you also don't have the waste or time consumption that comes from support structures which is also pretty unique when dealing with complex undercuts.
We'll be keeping a close eye on what happens next!