Colin Tirel, Managing Director of Arburg's UK subsidiary, at the launch of the Freeformer to the UK and Irish markets
Arburg has launched its Freeformer additive manufacturing machine in the UK and Ireland, highlighting the “cutting edge technology” and “long-term potential” it will offer customers.
The Freeformer is the first additive manufacturing machine developed by a plastic injection moulding technology company, and Arburg says it answers the market trend for short product life cycles and the growing demand for both the production of high-quality parts as one-off items and the personalisation of mass produced plastics parts.
“The introduction of the Freeformer is a huge technological step for our company,” said Colin Tirel, Managing Director of Arburg Ltd., during the launch on 15th September at the Williams F1 Centre in Oxfordshire.
“We have always considered ourselves a technology innovator not a technology adopter and our new system for additive manufacturing is a superb example of this philosophy. It will enable us to offer our customers cutting edge technology which we can strategically align with our injection moulding and robot application technology portfolio to meet our customer's short and long term requirements.”
The Freeformer is one part of Arburg’s latest connected solutions for “Industry 4.0”. These digital technologies connect machines and products in an “internet of the things in the Smart Factory”, which the company says will permit greater levels of mass customisation of parts in the future.
Professor Ian Ashcroft, a Research Director in additive manufacturing (AM) at the Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in AM at the University of Nottingham, gave a presentation about future trends in AM, the increasing use of multiple materials and topology optimisation at the launch.
One Arburg Ltd customer, Bob Cook of Rotary Motion Technologies, commented: “Companies like ours need to respond to this because it is the way technology will go in the future – it is part of a trend for lightweighting, methods to reduce global warming, to produce parts efficiently and reduce development costs. At some point cars will be made completely from plastic components, including the engine, so additive manufacturing will have an important role and will have to scale up.“
The patented Arburg Plastic Freeforming (APF) process has been purposefully developed to be more accessible to plastics processing companies such as moulders, using a qualified standard polymer granulate that the company says is “far cheaper than some additive manufacturing materials.”
Arburg says where its customers “have long been able to rely” on its injection moulding expertise for efficient mass production of plastic parts, the same now applies to the cost-effective additive manufacturing of one-off parts and multiple-variant small-volume batches.
The Technology in Focus
As with injection moulding, the granulate is first melted in a plasticising cylinder. A stationary discharge unit with a special nozzle then applies the plastic droplets layer-by-layer onto a movable part carrier using high-frequency piezo technology at a specified duty cycle of 60 to 200 Hertz. The droplets fuse together on cooling. The process allows uniform material displacement and creates strong, fully functional parts. The construction chamber of the two component Freeformer offers space for parts with maximum dimensions of 154 x 134 x 230 millimetres.
The Freeformer is equipped with a movable three-axis part carrier and two stationary discharge units as standard. The second discharge unit can be used for an additional component in order to e.g. produce a part in different colours, with special tactile qualities, or as a hard-soft combination. Where necessary, the Freeformer can build up structures from a special support material. This makes it possible to achieve unusual or complex part geometries. The supporting structures are subsequently removed in a water bath.
As an alternative, support can be built up in the same material as the part itself. A thinned out intermediate layer with specifically generated predetermined breaking points enables the supporting structure to simply be broken off mechanically at a later stage. This option is preferred for parts with free-standing structures and clearly defined edges.
Automatic data processing
The 3D CAD data for the parts being manufactured (STL files) are processed offline on a PC. A special software generates the necessary manufacturing data via slicing. Once the Freeformer control system has received this data, which determines, e.g. the axis movements, production can begin. Operation is extremely simple, says Arburg, with no special programming or processing knowledge required.
Finally, one great advantage of working with the Freeformer, added Arburg, is that no dust or emissions are produced and no additional infrastructure is therefore necessary. No extraction units or cooling water are required. The system is therefore also suitable for use in an office and laboratory environment.
The Freeform technology explained