3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

World-class opportunities - regional skills within

The artist Lady Gaga's coolest footwear is made using 3D printing (3DP) Photo: Anna Thorell

A lot is happening in the field of Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing (3DP), with applications even for steel and metal products

Several different techniques are being developed, of which some of the most promising are based on metal powder that is capable of merging into three-dimensional structures using laser or electron beams. Even methods based on plasma technology and spraying are being developed. Powder metallurgy (PM) and hot isostatic pressing (HIP) are closely related technologies that in some cases can be linked to efficient manufacturing of advanced components.
The methods are well suited with modern computer-based design tools, where only imagination limits what forms and material combinations can be created.

Prototypes, details and repairs
Metal 3DP is still a rather slow process and is not suitable for large-scale mass production today. However, the development is moving very fast internationally and may prove to be revolutionary in certain industries. In addition, there are already companies in Sweden who use 3DP commercially for manufacturing details that are otherwise very expensive or impossible to manufacture using conventional methods, or to speed up repair and maintenance work.

There are also emerging so-called service offices that, with the help of their equipment, can produce details from submitted “drawings” or 3D models. For prototyping, 3DP is already an effective and sometimes even relatively inexpensive method of producing details for testing, verification, or just to get a feel for what the item looks like, feels and fits.

National arena
In Sweden, there are also several companies that are already involved, or are part of value chains suitable for 3DP, for example. Sandvik, Bodycote and Quintus Technologies to name a few in our immediate regions.

Together with leading manufacturers of 3DP equipment and metal powders, the PM/AM/3DP/HIP area can be said to be a Swedish strength. The 3DP area is considered so important that a national arena in metal 3D printing is being constructed. The initiative is being led by Chalmers, University College West (Högskolan I Väst) and Swerea.

Triple Steelix conducted a survey of the many small and medium-sized steel-based regional companies that can be expected to have products or services that can be linked to the new opportunities.

Workshop and seminar
The proximity to skills and technology should be factors that can quickly take Swedish companies into leading positions in their branches. About 80 companies were contacted, of whom about 30 were interviewed. Of these, some 20 came to a final seminar at SwereaKIMAB in Kista, a joint venture between Triple Steelix, Swerea, Bodycote and Quintus Technologies. The companies were told more about the latest in the field and participated in a workshop to find opportunities to try the technology. Triple Steelix is planning further activities in the field to help companies who want to know more or invest in the technology.