Arburg freeformer carrier
There are a lot of firsts in the world of 3D printing, yet so many of them are... well, a little disappointing. Every once in a while however a truly big story breaks out of nowhere and takes the industry by surprise. And that may just have happened on the eve of the K2013 show, the enormous plastics and rubber tradeshow taking place in Düsseldorf this week.
For those that don't know, KShow is a 3000-exhibitor behemoth of a tradeshow that takes place tri-annually at Messe Düsseldorf. Dwarfing anything that the AM industry is used to — including dedicated shows like TCT Show and combined shows such as Euromold — the event has to be seen (or rather experienced) to be believed.
Normally this show would be of small though growing interest to TCT as an increasing number of AM machines companies demonstrate their wares alongside the traditional plastics processing technologies. Luckily for TCT however we have a significant contingent of editors and journalists at the event for our sister titles Medical Plastics News (MPN), British Plastics and Rubber, Middle Eastern Plastics and European Plastic Product Manufacturer and even TCT's Publisher-at-Large, Duncan Wood.
Lucky because on the eve of the show Germany-based injection moulding machine maker Arburg launched what could turn out to be a game-changing additive manufacturing concept to the press. MPN's Managing Editor, Sam Anson, was on hand to feed the TCT team with live information throughout the launch (thanks Sam!) including some images from the impressive launch proceedings.
The Arburg Freeformer is a plastics processing AM machine that is — unsurprisingly given Arburg's traditional line up — being touted as a manufacturing system for mould-free plastic parts. The system promises a news, patented technology that has the ability to process a number of existing engineering plastics. The technology is quite novel — starting with how the material begins life: as granules rather than pre-extruded filament or powdered polymer. In the company's launch literature they state that "You can continue to use your familiar standard granulates. In other words, all the plastics that you use day-by-day at your injection moulding plant. Our freeformer requires no additional, special and therefore expensive materials." If that turns out to be accurate — and the company don't want to start adding premium proprietary materials to the mix — that's a real eye-opener for anyone paying for extruded ABS at a huge premium.
I have long thought that the extrusion of plastic into filament that is in turn fed into (essentially) another extruder was an unnecessary step. Arburg obviously feel the same and given the company's long history of manipulating plastic in the 'raw' granulated form one can only surmise that they have found a system that works well.
The next step in the process is turning the solid pellets into a liquid form that can be deposited to make up the parts. The Freeformer achieves this by using:
"A heated plasticising cylinder [that] ensures an optimally prepared plastic melt in the so-called discharge unit. Its patented nozzle closure with high-frequency piezo technology enables fast opening and closing movements to produce the plastic droplets under pressure, from which the required plastic part is additively built up “droplet-by-droplet”.
This novel approach is complemented by an innovative re-thinking of the build chamber layout. The piezo-electric 'discharge unit' remains stationary but the part carrier can move in three or even five axes, allowing parts to be additively generated including undercuts without the needs for support structure. For anyone familiar with AM systems from FDM-based consumer machines right through to high-end metals baed-based processes this re-thinking takes a little while to fully comprehend. Personally I am waiting to see it in action!
The next breakthrough is the ability to process more than one material at a time, through the use of multiple 'discharge units', giving rise to parts that integrate hard and soft polymer elements or multiple colours — something currently only available with Stratasys' Objet range of multimaterial printers.
So, quite a departure form the 'traditional' thinking around layer-by-layer parts production that could surely lay claim to being the release of the year, even before the usual raft of releases at Euromold in December. Aforementioned TCT roving-reporter-cum-publisher Duncan Wood will be heading straight to the Arburg stand when he arrives in Düsseldorf so look out for further details from us.
- Fully functional parts are produced rapidly with standard granulates, from 3D CAD files without a mould
- Clocked nozzle closure with piezo technology ensures high part quality
- 3 or 5-axis component carrier with linear motors for complex 3D geometries without support structure
- Intuitive operation using hand gestures on the high-quality multi-touch screen
- Quiet, dust-free production environment