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Fraunhofer IFAM launches new ‘Fusion Factory’ for metal filament 3D printing

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) in Dresden has launched a new additive manufacturing facility.

The Fusion Factory, developed by industrial equipment supplier Xerion Berlin Laboratories, is intended as a miniaturized production line for the FFF printing of metallic and ceramic parts. IFAM hopes the new equipment will “strengthen its competence” as an industrial and research partner.

The Fraunhofer IFAM building in Dresden. Photo via Fraunhofer IFAM.
The Fraunhofer IFAM building in Dresden. Photo via Fraunhofer IFAM.

Metal extrusion at the Fusion Factory

The Institute already has expertise in a number of additive manufacturing processes and materials. The Fusion Factory is specifically designed for 3D printing with metal powder-infused filaments, although other powder additives are also compatible. Metal FFF is described as a particularly resource-efficient technology, whereby there is no loose powder left at the end of a build, unlike processes such as powder bed fusion.

To consolidate all of the steps necessary to successfully print with metal filaments, the Fusion Factory has three distinct modules. The first module is the printer itself, the second module is the debinder, and the final module is the densification unit. Once a part is printed, it is in its ‘green state’, where it needs further processing to improve its mechanical properties. The debinding unit first expels all of the excess material that is not metallic – the polymer matrix and any binding agents that may be present. Then, the densification unit provides the final heat treatment to produce a purely metallic (or ceramic), fully dense part.

According to IFAM, the additional processing modules enable the porosity of the parts produced at the Factory to be closely controlled. Therefore, the process particularly lends itself to biomedical applications where a certain degree of porosity may be beneficial.

The Fusion Factory at Fraunhofer IFAM. Photo via Fraunhofer IFAM.
The Fusion Factory at Fraunhofer IFAM. Photo via Fraunhofer IFAM.

Supporting research and project partners

In addition to the materials and process studies IFAM plans to conduct, the Institute will also be using the Fusion Factory to support project partners in their transition to metal 3D printing. The facility is now a part of IFAM’s Innovation Center Additive Manufacturing (ICAM), meaning it is in the ranks of other additive technologies such as EBM and 3D stencil printing – all of which are available for consultation and project implementation.

IFAM also plans to use the Fusion Factory for training and educational purposes. Starting next year, the Institute will begin holding events for both beginners and experts, such as the ‘Additive metallic filament printing for practical use’ industrial workshop set to take place on January 21st.

The Fraunhofer research organization is a broad one, with multiple divisions covering all aspects of technology and engineering. Earlier this month, Fraunhofer’s Institute for Laser Technology and the Max-Planck-Institute for Iron Research started investigating the 3D printing of a composite material not too dissimilar to Damascus steel. Using ILT’s own laser material deposition process, the researchers intend to emulate the metal’s microstructural characteristics without the need for any traditional forging equipment.

Earlier, in July, the Turkish division of gripper manufacturer Bilsing Automation also announced the use of ILT’s laser material deposition process to produce a number of its proprietary products, including handling devices and forming tools. The company has also previously worked with ILT to produce Ti64 aircraft components for Turkish Airlines, specifically repairing the O-rings found in landing gear.

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Featured image shows the Fusion Factory at Fraunhofer IFAM. Photo via Fraunhofer IFAM.

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