The research area of Individualized Production deals with how customized products can be produced efficiently. The aim is to achieve competitive prices, even at the lot size of one. Thus, the focus is on a radical shortening of the process from the idea of a product to the production.
One approach is the implementation of direct mold-less manufacturing processes that have been advanced by the Cluster of Excellence. One of the key technologies in this area is Selective Laser Melting (SLM), which is an additive manufacturing process originally used for generating prototypes only, but is now being qualified for small batch series as well. This requires, however, improvement and acceleration of processes as well as extending the material range. Furthermore, SLM opens up new possibilities of product design as a result of unrestricted geometric freedom, prototypes with a completely new geometry and unique functional characteristics can be developed and optimized. Hence, SLM products can be highly individual and designed with respect to application-specific requirements. Additionally, SLM allows new business models in which the customer is more involved in the design and development process.
A second approach within the research cluster was to focus on mold-based manufacturing processes used in mass-production. The manufacturing of molds is time-consuming and cost-intensive, and requires extensive experience, as well as the practice of trial-and-error. The objective within the cluster therefore was to develop processes that are competitive especially in small-scale applications. Molds need to be designed and produced faster, and costs have to be reduced. This applies to continuous manufacturing, e.g. profile extrusion, as well as to discontinuous processes, e.g. metal casting. With the method of virtual design and optimization of molds, cost-intensive experiments with a real mold can be reduced, and development times shortened. New tool geometries lead to further challenges. The first SLM tools are being tested.
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