Last month, Siemens officially cut the ribbon its new UK 3D printing facility at Materials Solutions in Worcester. TCT was invited to get a first look at the factory which is the result of a £27 million investment as the engineering giant aims to drive the industrialisation of additive manufacturing (AM).
Back in 2016, Siemens acquired an 85% stake in Materials Solutions, a UK-based engineering and manufacturing service provider, which, with a decade of experience, was already printing thousands of metal AM parts leveraging its arsenal of 15 AM platforms. Now, the new 4,500 square metre facility on the Materials Solutions site, is enabling the company to expand its capacity to 50 machines which will produce high-end serial parts for Siemens Power and Gas and customers in the aerospace, automotive, motorsport, and other industries.
This really is a digital factory in every sense. AM, IoT, VR – if it’s an abbreviation in the smart manufacturing sphere, you’l find it here. Each step of the AM process chain is covered on the factory floor from design services to quality inspection. Metal AM machines from EOS and Renishaw are housed across a 32 bay 3D printer farm which also contains all of the necessary de-powdering and post-processing steps, with plenty of room to expand. Above, there’s a mezzanine level which is used to feed material to the machines from smart hoppers, and on the ground, orange tracker lines point towards additional future automation where guided units may transport products between machines – similar to an automation concept we saw from EOS back in 2016. The layout has been designed with flexibility in mind, as Phil Hatherley, General Manager of Materials Solutions explained, “you never know what you could be making in the next year”, so the facility needs to be adaptable. Bringing all of that together are Siemens’ end-to-end PLM chain, computer-aided NX design software, and MindSphere, a cloud-based, open IoT operating system which connects products, factories, systems, and machines with data analytics.
The facility is piloting EOS’s M 300-4 machine, further extending a partnership which has seen both companies integrate each other’s technology. The factory has been built for series production, which the company describes as part runs in their hundreds and beyond (“‘Small’ doesn’t represent what is going to happen over the next few years”, Markus Seibold, Vice President Additive Manufacturing Siemens Power & Gas, noted). Materials Solutions has already printed more than 5,000 AM parts for more than 80 customers and Siemens says it aims to have completed certification on more than 200 metal parts by 2025.
Though, not everything is about data and robotic arms just yet and on the tour we were hit with a heavy chunk of reality when Hatherley led us to the post processing section of the floor and presented us with the current finishing tool of choice: a hammer. This may be a digital factory, but sometimes, good old proven, manual methods are still the way to go. For now, at least, and Siemens is working with solutions providers such as German AM post processing specialist, Solukon, which has a number of its automated powder removal systems installed inside the facility, to automate AM part finishing.
“Siemens is the only company with such a comprehensive portfolio for driving the industrialisation of AM. Built on the foundation of our global Siemens R&D and manufacturing footprint, the new facility is a huge step in pioneering the industrialisation of high-end AM,” said Willi Meixner, CEO of the Siemens Power and Gas Division. “Combining the full power of Siemens with the strengths of Materials Solutions Ltd. offers unique and proven technologies for our in-house gas turbine business and for external markets and industries. We already have a significant number of core AM components in our portfolio.”
Of course, it’s all well and good showing off shiny new machinery but the company also had an impressive case study on hand to show how these technologies are being applied. Siemens recently used 3D scanning and AM to bring a 100-year old Ruston Hornsby vintage car, part of a duo fondly named Gin and Tonic, back to its former glory. Tasked with recreating the car’s long broken steering box, the team scanned the broken parts and created a new working model which was then additively manufactured and installed onto the car.
This is just one example of how the company is applying AM to solve complex challenges, not to mention Siemens’ own experience in-house at its Power and Gas and Power Generation Services businesses where hot rotating parts for use in gas turbines have been additively manufactured and racked up more than 110,000 hours of engine experience in fully operational power plants. In addition, Materials Solutions is supporting Siemens’ latest HL-class gas turbines to reduce emissions and increase performance with serial AM combustion components for the SGT5-9000HL which will be used for the first time by the Scottish energy company SSE.
The facility has been officially open for little under a month but with real industrial use cases like these already materialising, and Siemens’ unique position as a leader in software and automation services, there is a real opportunity here for Materials Solutions to lead the smart factory charge for UK additive manufacturing. Going into 2019, it’s certainly one to keep an eye on as it gears towards that 50 machine capacity and the applications that are sure to come with it.