3D printed components are already commonplace in sectors such as the automotive industry, aircraft manufacturing, or medical technology.
Now, German packaging and bottling machine manufacturer Krones is showing that the technology also has a place in line manufacturing, particularly for the customised machines in the beverage and liquid-food industries.
The company has been working on developing the technology for a number of years, now. 3D printing, even in tiny-sized batches is a cost-efficient manufacturing technology, the company says.
“For spare parts supply covering older generations of machines, this aspect is likewise of interest. After all, the parts no longer need to be placed in storage; instead, after design modifications, they can be reproduced at short notice, without needing any specially manufactured tools and ideally even at decentralised locations,” noted Krones. “The client benefits here not only from fast availability, but also from components customised to suit his own machine.”
Implementing 3D printed components into the lines produced by the company demanded extensive testing and evaluation. Components produced through additive manufacturing must withstand the stresses arising during production.
Depending on the application category, the material must comply with a high mechanical and chemical load limits.
“Every part installed simply has to meet Krones’ stringent equipment performance stipulations. These include not only stability but also the material’s elasticity and resistance to cleaning agents,” said Reinhard Ortner, a production technologist at Krones.
“For this reason, we have focused on a combination of application categories, materials and printing processes. In development projects, we thereupon manufactured a variety of parts and components in a 3D printing process, so as to test them for industrial use.”
One of these projects is a can inverter, 3D printed from a thermoplastic material. In the line, the inverter rotates and positions the cans in the required direction. Hence, in the development of the 3D printed component, many different factors needed to be analysed, including the kinematics involved, in terms of the optimal motion sequence of the cans as they are inverted.
“Then there were also the tribological characteristics, meaning the friction behaviour between the cans and the material,” said Andreas Neuber, a technology expert on additive manufacturing.
“Several attempts were needed for the development work, of course. The 3D model of the can inverter adapted for additive manufacturing was designed in CAD, and then printed. In the test, it quickly emerged what modifications were needed, and these could be swiftly implemented,” he explained.
The result is a 3D-printed can inverter that not only has a very short production time, but that is also completely customised for the application.
“With conventional can inverters, in particular, shaping deviations are invariably encountered due to manual machining. With 3D printing, the ideal can guide configuration can be reproduced as often desired and can in addition be quickly and easily adapted to handle new container formats.”
Over the coming months, the can inverter will be subjected to rigorous trialling in a field test and its performance carefully evaluated.