Users of 3D metal printing are increasingly discovering the new possibilities and freedoms offered by additive manufacturing. By Guido Radig
Occasionally, manufacturing and logistics concepts can be completely reconfigured, with 3D designs leading to new product solutions.
Jung & Co Gerätebau GmbH recently started using additive manufacturing to ensure that spare parts for beverage filling plants are available more quickly. This approach is important in an industry in which the term “time is money” is more than just an empty phrase.
Transfer Of Know-How Delivers Real Synergies
The processor of stainless steel caters to many sectors ranging from the food and beverage industry, pharmaceuticals and chemical engineering, plant engineering, aviation through to the fossil fuels extraction industry.
One such specialty is the production of stainless steel spare parts for beverage filling plants. Over the course of 40 years, the company’s experience in using stainless steel, aluminium and titanium as materials has been transferred to numerous sectors.
The traditional methods of machining at the company have now been expanded to include additive manufacturing using the metal laser melting process, having recently acquired an M2 cusing Multilaser machine from Concept Laser.
Beverage Filling Plants In Constant Use
A filling plant in the beverage industry should concentrate on high availability, but flexibility is also important as bottles or cans come in varying sizes.
Filling plants need to perform the following tasks: supplying, filling, sealing, and ultimately transferring of bottles or cans to the post-processing stations.
Unsurprisingly, food law dictates that cleanliness and hygiene are the most important requirements—precisely why stainless steel is one of the preferred materials used in the industry. The industry thrives on speed: Production rates of 40,000 to 80,000 bottles or cans per hour are not unusual. <p.If a plant is shut down, its profitability quickly diminishes. Finding the fault, requesting a spare part, shipping and installing it can take a few days in worst-case scenarios. Depending on the size and output of the entire filling line, an hour of lost production may anywhere from €4,000 to €30,000 (US$4,260 to US$31,956).
The filling company must then find some way of switching to other filling lines and then adapt them to handle the particular bottles or cans.
Mr Lehmann then pondered on the use of additively manufactured stainless steel parts. “They can be printed as required and also have their design optimised,” as Thomas Lehmann, managing director of Jung & Co.
The idea caught on to some of their customers in the beverage industry. “We were ultimately able to secure a few pilot customers for this project. These customers were surprised at how quickly we were actually able to supply a can filler assembly with the usual precision and density,” said Mr Lehmann.
Fewer Parts In The Assembly And High Availability During Use
Mr Lehmann soon found that an additive solution such as the laser melting of stainless steel meant greater freedom of geometry, coupled with a CAD design that suited the process.
In addition, parts or entire assemblies could be created as a one-shot design. If the filling company required a new can filler valve, the components were manufactured promptly using CAD data and fitted at the customer’s premises, reducing downtime.
Many of these spare parts are not standard components, but rather customer-specific solutions. If it was manufactured by conventional means, the assembly would consist of seven components made of stainless steel type 1.4404, which needed to have the necessary seals added.
The stainless steel parts had to be initially milled or turned with precision machining on CNC machines and then fitted manually. The assembly was then placed into storage so that in the event of a failure, a quick response was possible and the filling plant could be back up and running again.
“The can filler valve was redesigned so that it could be manufactured in one operation on an M2 cusing Multilaser machine. This means there was no longer any need for the seals and interfaces that are otherwise an inevitable consequence of the joining process. The fact that no assembly work is required is not only cheaper, but also saves time for our customers. Manufacturing of the part by conventional means takes around 8 – 10 weeks including the procurement of the required precision cast part, whereas additive manufacturing takes around one week,” explained Mr Lehmann.
He added, “In principle, this means we can manufacture spare parts on demand and then deliver them on time when the demand suddenly arises. The benefits that arise with such a precision part are extremely interesting for both us as the manufacturer and for our customers if the desire is to keep overhaul times or machine downtimes as short as possible.”
In addition, spare parts were not need to be purchased in advance and kept in storage, thus tying up less capital.
New Part Solutions And High Reproducibility
The load demands of a highly dynamic filling plant are challenging, which is why the can filler valve was subjected to intensive load tests, topology optimisations, design modifications, and investigations into the amount of reworking and the release of tension from the parts.
“The finished 3D part not only looks different to the conventional one, but is also around 35 percent lighter,” said Mr Lehmann.
The additive approach could result in diverse possibilities such as incorporating lightweight design approaches or functional integrations, such as cooling, temperature control or sensor technology.
Hybrid approaches to manufacturing are also relevant. For example, simple geometric areas can be machined in a conventional way, while complex areas can be additively manufactured.
Another important point is the high reproducibility. Once process parameters have been found, they guarantee a consistent level of quality including the documentation that is also supplied.
“The many different aspects of 3D metal printing demand an in-depth analysis of the performance requirements in a discussion with the customer. Talking to the customer reveals possible solutions which, adapted to the process, result in new solutions which can deliver more than the previous parts. The crucial factor when it comes to costs is ultimately what the part is capable of and how quickly it is available,” Mr Lehmann explained.
In the beverage industry, there was another key argument in favour of additive manufacturing for filling companies: In the case of conventional cast parts made from stainless steel, cavities are not exactly popular in the food industry as they are a potential source of contamination.
Mr Lehmann pointed out that cavities were avoided in this particular application, which was another benefit of the 3D metal printing process.
Prospects For 3D Metal Printing
Additive manufacturing was added to the CNC manufacturing range at Jung & Co since 2015, and there are plans to expand production capacity. The company is considering to purchase a mobile laser scanner in the coming year, which brings about a new approach in supplying spare parts rapidly to its customers.
Laser measurement allows the relevant component that needs to be replaced to be digitised in situ in the customer’s machine. Once the corresponding 3D files have been sent them, production on the laser melting machine can also commence there immediately in urgent cases.
“Additive manufacturing opens up opportunities when it comes to delivering spare parts for filling machines in the beverage industry. A laser scanner is the next logical step toward full digitisation of the process chain. It does of course also have the appeal that we detach ourselves a little from the element of time and space in the supply of spare parts,” concluded Mr Lehmann.