By Olivia Cahoon
Additive technologies allow for design freedom and extend beyond the limits of conventional manufacturing. By building upon layers of material, additive manufacturing techniques enable a variety of three-dimensional (3D) printed prototypes for functional use. Manufacturers that take advantage of this can provide clients with cost-efficient volume manufacturing and reliable quality.
Above: Fit, based out of Lupburg, Germany, operates one of the largest EN-9100-certified additive metal production facilities in the world. It recently added five EOS M 400-4 additive manufacturing systems, designed for the industrial production of high-quality metal parts.
FIT Technology Group
Founded in 1995, FIT Technology Group is a provider of rapid prototyping services and additive design and manufacturing headquartered in Lupburg, Germany. The company started with two people out of a garage-sized workspace with a local outreach.
FIT originally offered paper lamination, which lead to its purpose-built factory for additive manufacturing—one of the largest capacities for metal parts to date. The company soon established itself as an all-in-one provider and special manufacturer in the field of additive manufacturing.
Today, the company has 330 employees with locations worldwide and operates from an 8,000 square foot factory. Both national and international companies rely on FIT to quickly and efficiently supply them with optimized, additive manufactured components.
FIT manufactures hybrid parts using additive and conventional manufacturing methods. The company also produces prototypes for functional testing as well as design models and pilot series. Its manufactured parts are offered in quantities as small as one to mass customization. For prototyping, the company uses materials like ceramic, metal, and plastic. “It is a common error to believe that you can produce one part by alternatively additive or conventional technologies. The two solutions cannot simply be compared, they are too diverse,” says Carl Fruth, CEO/founder, FIT. He believes some projects are more suitable for conventional techniques and others for additive technologies. Regardless of the manufacturing method, FIT performs a series of tests and trials to ensure full functional approval is given. This includes test drives, endurance tests, proof of temperature resistance, and test assembly.
Functional 3D Printing
FIT first offered 3D printing using selective laser sintering technology—an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser to sinter powdered material and form a solid 3D model. Today, 80 percent of the manufacturer’s work is 3D printing.
In April 2016, the company started operating the FIT Factory where it deploys a number of EOS 3D printing systems. It is one of the largest EN 9100-certified additive metal production facilities in the world.
For example, the manufacturer uses the EOSINT M 280 for additive manufacturing metal products directly from CAD data. It is a direct manufacturing solution for high-quality metal tool inserts, prototypes, and end products. The EOSINT M 280 features a build volume of 9.85×9.85×12.8 inches with a scan speed of 23 feet per second. It is compatible with a range of materials from light alloys to high-grade steels, tool steels, and superalloys.
FIT uses a range of materials for 3D printing including metals like aluminum, steel, and titanium as well as plastics like FIT alumide and thermoplastic polyurethane. The manufacturer also creates industrial-scale ceramics using additive manufacturing methods. According to Fruth, 3D technology combined with traditional ceramic firing and glazing produces ceramics of unrivaled beauty, design innovation, and functionality.
The manufacturer also works with common elastomers like rubber, silicone, and viton to manufacture elastic molded parts. During rubber molding, each material undergoes a standard quality check regarding vulcametry, density, shore hardness, and elongation at break. Rubber molding is used for niche products, spare products, special machines, vintage/classic cars, and special purpose vehicles like ambulances, firetrucks, and communal utility vehicles.
3D objects that require finishing use further materials for a durable and polished appearance. After 3D printing, the finishing process can include assembling, color, glass bead blasting, metal coating, precision engineering, and sand blasting.
“The choice of material depends on the customer’s project and the specification regarding the intended part, as well as our recommendation,” offers Fruth.
To design 3D objects, the company uses Netfabb software and its own proprietary software. Netfabb is an additive manufacturing and design software from Autodesk Inc. with tools to streamline additive workflow. It includes features for editing models for production, additive manufacturing simulation, lattice and surface optimization, and automatic packing.
Fruth believes manufacturers can overcome these challenges by selecting the best-serving technology that offers quality compared to costs. Additionally, he says it’s important to have assistance for additive engineering and to train customers in engineering workshops.
FIT recommends metal 3D printing for functional prototypes and small batches. The manufacturer offers clients high accuracy, good mechanical properties, economical value in highly complex components, reduced lead times, and the ability to produce complex geometries that unachievable through conventional methods.
To keep up with the demand for metal 3D printing, FIT invested in five EOS M 400-4 systems in 2017. The EOS M 400-4 is an additive manufacturing system designed for the industrial production of high-quality metal parts. With the five EOS systems, FIT intends to increase the diversity of the materials it can process in house and boost its manufacturing capacity.
“The new generation of EOS systems not only convinced us with the outstanding quality of the produced components, but above all with its open interfaces, which allows us to seamlessly integrate these machines in our quality assurance concepts—a further big step toward achieving the industrial scale additive manufacturing of components,” says Fruth.
The system also recoats powder material from both sides to reduce non-productive time while a recirculating filter system with automated cleaning reduces filter changes and extends filter lifetime—ultimately reducing filter costs.
“It is our objective to supply customers with components of exceptional quality from one single source. We intend to achieve this objective as we move forward with EOS as a dependable partner and long-term supplier,” offers Fruth.
Additive manufacturing provides manufacturers with the tools and technology to create prototypes and functional parts with greater detail in less time. Using this 3D printing method, FIT produces functional prototypes for multiple industries. By implementing five EOS M 400-4 systems, the company intends to expand its additive manufacturing offering on an industrial scale.
Mar2018, Industrial Print Magazine