Ursus Krüger: 3D printing is a process that is used to create three-dimensional objects — as though one were printing them. Experts prefer the term “additive manufacturing.” This term is a good description of the revolution that is currently taking place in industry. For thousands of years, objects were manufactured through the removal of material by means of drilling, milling, grinding or chiseling. For example, the statue of David in Florence was hewn from stone. By contrast, 3D printing builds up material “additively.” This gives product designers completely new options. They can create designs that would be impossible to implement by means of traditional processes. 3D design also makes it possible to realize new functionalities and improve the performance of many components.
From Particles to Products
3D printers are now being used in manufacturing. They are revolutionizing the supply of spare parts and making completely new types of design for important components possible.
What is 3D printing?
In what ways do you expect 3D printing to change manufacturing?
Ursus Krüger: 3D printers will increasingly be used in factories. At Siemens they are already being used to some extent, for example at one of our gas turbine plants in Sweden. There, we are printing burner tips for turbines. However, in most cases 3D printing will supplement existing processes rather than completely replacing them — it’s simply faster to stamp or cast simple components. But when it comes to complex parts, 3D printing will change a lot of processes. The production of individual components and small batches will become more economical and will probably increase.
Which business models could 3D printing change?
Ursus Krüger: In the future, components with more complex forms will be possible. Sophisticated designs, for example designs that increase the effectiveness of gas turbines, will be easier to implement. And that won’t apply only to large productionruns. Because it will be possible to produce individual workpieces more cheaply, it will also be possible to economically provide applications for very special needs. Supplying replacement parts could be completely transformed. To date, replacement parts have been produced in advance, centrally stored, and sent out on demand. In the future, replacement parts could be printed out at the customer’s premises. That would save time and money.
What are you working on at the moment?
Ursus Krüger: We can already print out a number of things. However, there are very many processes, and each of them has its own strengths and weaknesses. My team and I are working to create useful links between different 3D printing processes. One very promising process is called cold spraying.It's advantages are that it's very quick and can produce relatively large components. It's disadvantage is that it's not as precise.
What object have you always wanted to print?
Ursus Krüger: The grand vision that motivates us is the possibility of printing a turbine blade. Turbine blades have to stand up to extreme levels of stress. If they could be printed, it would be possible to design much finer cooling channels inside the blades, and that would boost the blades efficiency. However, the blades also have to be very robust. If we could manage to combine these two tasks with the help of printers, we would be very proud of ourselves.