At Würth, the 3D printer is kept in the museum. This is not because the technology is thought of as antiquated in the company – quite the contrary in fact. The advantages of 3D printing are put to good use here in the company’s “Screws and Threads” museum. This technology makes it possible to print individual pieces quickly, in order to replicate screws from 600 years of screw history, for example. However, the 3D printer itself is missing from the collection of tools and machines in the history of screw manufacturing.The reason for this is that production machinery is still years ahead of 3D printers when it comes to the mass production of screws. Spinning a screw out of a piece of metal or producing it by means of cold impact extrusion continues to be the number one choice in terms of quality and costs compared to using a laser to melt together several layers of metal dust, as is typical in 3D printing.
Printing individual pieces plays an ever more important role at Würth in the product development process
No longer a rarity: hearing aids produced by 3D printers
Decorative items such as this vase are easy as pie for this technology
Nevertheless, the innovative technology has found its way into other areas of Würth: “3D printing is already an important tool in our development activities. By using this procedure, it is quick and easy to create samples, which give us a clear idea of the mechanical and optical features of the product,” explains Thomas Klenk, responsible for Product and Purchasing at Würth. “This technology allows us to actively influence the shaping of various parameters as realistically as possible. In the future, 3D printing will play a greater role at Würth, in the production of small series, for example, and maybe someday even for larger series.”
After all, 3D printers are unrivaled when it comes to producing in a jiffy in cases where special tools, shapes and techniques would normally be required. This applies, for example, to prototypes used by engineers, models utilized by architects, or even for requirements at remote locations. A prime example of this is Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, which has set up a network of 3D printer partners where they can print spare parts for repairs directly on site at any time. Cable boxes, ventilation grilles, coat hooks and headrests are currently the most popular parts. By the end of the upcoming year, roughly 18,000 spare parts are predicted to come from 3D printers.
CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL MANAGING BOARD OF THE WÜRTH GROUP
“Is there any company, department or employee that would not consider itself to be innovative? Innovation is one of the most misused words in our language, and it is not even able to defend itself. If we come into contact with something that actually surprises us because we could not even have imagined it until recently, that is when we are truly astonished. Printing spare parts? Now whether I would want to live in a house that was made by a printer is doubtful. For today at least, that is simply too innovative.”
“3D PRINTING WILL PLAY AN EVER GREATER ROLE AT WÜRTH IN THE FUTURE AS WELL.”
The manufacturer of sporting goods Adidas is also concerned with the immediate and swift execution of ideas. The first 5,000 pairs of sport shoes produced by the printer at the new Speed Factory will appear this fall. The company hopes this will drastically reduce the current development time of 18 months for a new model, thus allowing them to react more flexibly to new trends.
A three-dimensional computer model of the desired workpiece is always required for the 3D printing process. A dress can serve this purpose just fine, as demonstrated by US dancer Dita von Teese in 2013. Regardless of whether it is a fragile piece of clothing or a colossal tool: the 3D model is first sliced into paper-thin, two-dimensional layers, which are then printed one on top of the other – sometimes with a liquid synthetic resin that hardens layer by layer and others with metal powder that is melted using a laser. Ceramics and plastics are also popular materials. But this is just the beginning – the technology is developing at full speed.
“BY NOW, EVEN ENTIRE HOUSES ARE BEING PRINTED OUT.”
This was proven recently by physicists from the University of Stuttgart. Using liquid photoresist, they printed high-performance miniature objects the size of a seed. The resulting nano lenses measuring 500 layers thick were met with great interest in the field of medical technology for use as components in endoscopes. An entire house was successfully printed, too, which sounds like something right out of a science fiction movie. It is located in Moscow and stands as proof of what is possible with this newfangled technology. The entire framework was spit out in the span of a single day by an enormous printer. During the process, the employees from a Russian/US start-up fed their crane-like printing robot a concrete mixture, which it then sprayed out one layer at a time. This was not only unbelievably fast but also incredibly cheap, with the costs per square meter coming out to EUR 260 including removal.
In 2013, Dita von Teese wore the first-ever 3D-printed dress – along with matching 3D heels of course
Researchers are already dreaming about printing organs, bones and cartilage
Dental labs are also using 3D technology to produce large volumes of crowns
The fact that a large share of dental crowns and hearing aids are produced by 3D printers most likely comes as no surprise to doctors. Pills for epileptics that do not have to be swallowed but instead are printed in such a way that they dissolve in the mouth upon contact with liquid are already in serial production. Researchers are already dreaming about cartilage, bones and complete organs that can be printed. A team of US researchers has already successfully printed fully functional mouse ovaries, and initial attempts to reproduce blood vessels give hope that one day faces, limbs or organs destroyed by accidents, illness or war could be customized and printed out for each individual.
3D printing being used in architecture
The 3D printing technology is also useful for architects: thanks to 3D printing, construction engineers at the site of Sagrada Família in Barcelona are now able to transform the complex designs created by Antoni Gaudí into models for the twisted and winding vaults. This gives reason to hope that the construction started on the church back in 1882 might actually be completed soon.
THE 3D-PRINTED HOUSE – AND THE FIRST OF ITS KIND
The first turnkey property made with a 3D printer.