Siemens has already played an important role in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry for quite some time. Not only has the German tech company seen its industrial controls integrated into countless 3D printers, but its software is involved in everything from design to production to quality control. However, more recently, corporate moves in AM have become larger and much more visible.
The latest is the opening of the Charlotte Advanced Technology Collaboration Hub (CATCH) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Led by Siemens Digital Industries (DI), Siemens Technology and Siemens Energy, the site is a new research and development facility to help customers in the industrialization of AM. To learn more about the location, we spoke with Siemens team members Dr. Hallee Deutchman, Head of Materials Research and Industrialized Manufacturing (US) for Siemens Technology, and Tim Bell , Additive Manufacturing Business Manager, Siemens Digital Industries.
Siemens itself is the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, with approximately 303,000 employees worldwide and 62 billion euros in sales in 2021. Siemens Energy, however, is a separate company that was created in 2020. It employs 91,000 people worldwide. and achieved a turnover of 28.5 billion euros in 2021.
The CATCH center demonstrates that companies are still working together and both continue to play an increasingly important role in 3D printing. Bell acknowledged that as AM matures, no party will be able to advance it far enough for series production. Instead, multiple stakeholders will need to collaborate to industrialize various aspects of various AM processes.
“[The AM sector] is the wild and wild west, and no one has managed to tame it alone. So what we wanted to do was create a central hub, where we could collaborate with machine OEMs, end users, and institutions to solve tough problems that prevent additive or become a mass production process in some applications,” Bell said. .
CATCH is the last of Siemens’ six AM centers, but it is the only one located in a working factory. The largest Siemens Charlotte Energy Hub is a million square feet of industrial operations dedicated to repairing the multinational’s massive turbines. CATCH is located in a tiny part of this area, where it acts as an R&D lab to drive cutting-edge manufacturing. In turn, Siemens works with companies that fit this vision. So far, OEMs ExOne, Xerox, and Roboze have put “collaboration” into CATCH.
“When you look at CATCH, you notice that it’s a next-gen additive installation. We’re not a museum. We’re not an installation with beautiful white floors and white walls in which the people can walk in and see what the additive is doing in an industrial environment,” Deutchman explained. We’re dirty. And the intention is that all of our machines will be additive cutting edge. So not a lot of work with modalities that are very well established, like laser powder bed or laser powder bed. electron beam, but really about what’s next. We want to learn how to delight customers, both internal and external, and solve problems that aren’t easily achievable with today’s technology.
Bell pointed out that these partners are often chosen to tackle a specific project either for internal or external customers, whether related to material or process development or because the existing manufacturing method is not sufficient. . The Siemens DI team then builds the process and pushes it to a production application.
This was the case for ExOne binder jetting. Siemens is developing hardware for the process and then scaling it up to hand off to a customer to produce large parts. With Roboze, Siemens is tackling the problem of long lead times for steel components. Clearly, PEEK polymers can replace metal parts at lower cost with faster turnaround time due to their high strength and resistance to temperature extremes and volatile chemicals.
How it works from a business perspective depends on whether the customers are inside Siemens or outside the company.
“For some people [customers], especially our internal customers, Siemens Technology’s role is corporate R&D. We incubate and evaluate exciting new technologies and solutions for Siemens business units. In this situation, Siemens Energy is an important partner in this work,” said Deutchman. “From our perspective, it’s our job to incubate, to take the risk, to do cool things and break them, so they can be industrialized to production, and then they can actually create something real.”
As far as external customers are concerned, Siemens will generally develop its own products to sell to others. However, it can license its more sophisticated tools, such as a physics-based simulation tool that is currently in development. While most simulation software offers a visual representation of a 3D printing process, this program will incorporate multiple levels of machine physics.
This not only builds on Siemens’ software expertise, but also on almost 20 years of experience as an AM user. The company has relied on powder bed fusion and directed energy deposition for its turbine engine business. In turn, the company was able to apply its manufacturing expertise to the entire production flow.
“Siemens has developed a complete end-to-end solution, i.e. a chain of software tools that leads directly to an automation connection, then to a chain of software tools for monitoring, planning and quality feedback.We are the only company in the world that can manage the addendum from a PLM perspective, to the end of the Industrial Internet of Things and tie it all together. gives us a head start on how things work.
In particular, this means that Siemens can effectively execute the use of digital twins. The company is able to take the operations of physical machines and create digital twins of the process simulation, in addition to simulating the real component. This is becoming increasingly critical to the industrialization of AM, as predicting and compensating for the physics of 3D printers ensures that finished parts actually match their intended designs.
Naturally, this is only a small part of the important workflow that Siemens plans to tackle. Beyond simulating the machines themselves, the company can simulate entire factories. Using advanced computing, it is possible to capture data from a powder bed system and filter out unnecessary information. This could be extended to multiple machines and entire factories using MindSphere Cloud.
Beyond edge computing and cloud computing, the German giant has access to other advanced tools. Siemens DI’s Future Factory team can also introduce new non-destructive testing, inspection and quality control methods to further industrialize additive technology. Augmented, virtual and mixed reality can be applied to look at AM in new ways. All of this is driven by a massive tech company that has the industrial clout that few others could bring to 3D printing.
This includes support from Siemens Financial Services (SFS), the multinational’s financial arm. SFS provided CATCH with the financing solution needed to lease several of the lab’s 3D printers. The funding group sees AM as a strategic priority as digital manufacturing continues to evolve.
According to the Siemens team, CATCH already has its hands full of additive work. The facility has just opened, but it can’t take much work for the term. This bodes well for the future of the site, which, in turn, bodes well for Siemens and the 3D printing industry as a whole.
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