Digital manufacturing in mass production – functional printing on 3D objects
The automated manufacturing of customized products has been targeted by various markets (e.g. automotive, aerospace, lighting, etc.) and manufacturing industries, respectively, for years. Notwithstanding, the demand for technologies allowing to efficiently manufacture individual items under mass production conditions has not yet been met. By employing printing technologies (inkjet print and dispense) Fraunhofer ENAS, in cooperation with partner institutes, has established processes, which allow the product to be digitally customized during standard production. One speaks of functional printing on 3D objects, precisely. For this purpose, functional inks with dielectric or electrically conductible properties are applied to print cable harnesses or even complex sensor systems on arbitrary 3D objects. The printing on 3D objects is implemented in a robot-assisted process, allowing an application of the printing technology on most diverse and distinctive objects. The upper figure on the left page shows exemplarily the fabrication of functional layers by means of a 6-axis-robot-assisted inkjet printing technology for the manufacturing of cable harnesses on car parts. Fraunhofer ENAS successfully conducted extensive research to overcome the challenges (e.g. adhesive strength of printed layers and realization of homogenous electrical conductors on curved or vertical surfaces) of functional printing on 3D objects. The targeted selection and adaptation of material and printing parameters proved to be the key to success.