German Manufacturer Expands Into Copper AM via Aim3D Printer

April 13, 2022

Aim3D-SchunkSchunk, a supplier of series-production solutions for metal-powder pressing and injection molding as well as other technologies, has expanded its expertise to include 3D metal printing at its facility in Thale, Germany.

It did this in 2020 through the acquisition of an ExAM 255 multi-material 3D printing system from Aim3D, featuring Aim3D’s composite extrusion modeling (CEM) process. A development partnership between the two companies covers materials, such as copper materials and nickel-based materials; plant technology, such as extruder cooling or vacuum-clamping-table applications; and marketing and acquisition for Schunk as a supplier of 3D metal parts in batch to single-part production.

Manufacture of copper components via additive manufacturing (AM) is of strategic importance to Schunk, according to Christian Stertz, the company’s project manager for systems engineering, as this market has few suppliers. The conductive material is required for certain components in the electronics industry, and also has applications for thermal management, low-loss energy transmission in other industries.

CEM, explain Aim3D officials, combines the metal injection molding (MIM) process—the use of MIM pellets—with AM process technologies, namely fused deposition modeling (FDM) and selective laser melting (SLM). The CEM process melts the plastic component of the pellets, then sinters the metal to create a part.

The ExAM 255 enables thermal or electrical conductivity advantages to be retained in AM processes, according to Stertz, who sees this as a unique selling point, highlighting better and higher conductivity values ​​on the surface and within the components as compared to other AM processes. In addition, he offers, the CEM process offers material-price and resource-conservation benefits.

Using the ExAM 255, Schunk has developed induction hardeners (inductors) for gear wheels in the automotive sector and for chain wheels on chainsaws. This involves induction hardening of a component through partial surface hardening for the highest mechanical requirements. These AM-produced copper components exhibit a density of approx. 8.5 g/cm³--approximately 95-96 percent—with 75-80-percent conductivity, comparable to MIM results.

AM allows for increased design freedom ascompared to MIM, as well as inclusion of internal channels or undercuts. In addition, AM-capable bionic structures save weight and material while increasing functionality, and saves on machining and tooling costs.

The CEM process, stress Aim3D officials, tends not to be suitable for very simple geometries and for large batches, as well-established series-production processes such as MIM offer greater advantage.

“In the future, copper and copper alloys will play an important role in the MIM and AM business at Schunk for special electronic and thermal requirements,” Stertz says. “Bearing materials such as bronze or brass are also possible. Here, AM serves as an entry-level technology. It can deliver prototypes as well as small batches or pre-series production. In addition, this manufacturing strategy reduces the development costs for design optimization, i.e., redesign or reengineering, as well as producing a variety of versions of copper components.”

Industry-Related Terms: Additive manufacturing, Selective laser melting (SLM)
View Glossary of 3D Metal Printing Terms


See also: Aim3d

Technologies: Other


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