May 12, 2022
By Stefan Ash
The aim of the “3DConFil” research project at TU Darmstadt is to integrate various elements into laminated plastic parts.
It’s great, the freedom of design that additive manufacturing offers: almost any shape imaginable can be produced! But what good is topological freedom if cables still have to be inserted after the printing process? Then it must be clamped manually and drilled or countersunk again. It’s a shame actually… Because: “Today we are witnessing increasing mechatronization,” says Kay-Eric Steffan, associate researcher at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at TU Darmstadt. The demands on the products are more and more individual, their functional density is increasing.
Production becomes more resource efficient
This is exactly where the “3DConFil” funding project comes in. Researchers from the Product Development and Machine Elements department have developed a hybrid process and production system that combines plastic 3D printing with flexible cable processing. This means that cables, electronic lines, pipes and optical fibers are integrated and integrated into the component thus produced. Subsequent assembly, which is complex and costly in conventional manufacture, is therefore no longer necessary. “This shortens the process chain, saves work steps and material and thus makes production more resource efficient”, explains Steffan, project coordinator at 3DConFil.
The project name stands for 3DContinous Filament. This printing process allows the layered construction and printing of a component made of a special mixture of plastic or metal particles. The team around Eckhard Kirchner, head of the Institute for Product and Machine Element Development, developed a prototype including special software and an innovative printhead, with the help of which products are printed and the necessary lines, pipes and cables are “threaded” at the same time. A side memory with guide rollers allows this precise threading.
Size, appearance and product requirements are flexible, individual and scalable based on customer needs. “This makes completely new components possible,” reports the professor. Cables and lines could also be installed in a spiral, for example, which was a challenge until now. The innovation goes even further: for example, the team has designed a second production machine with a swivel base so that additional components such as sensors, magnets or connectors can also be integrated. Kirchner likes to compare this to peeling an apple, which must be turned while the knife is in use.
This is how 3D printing becomes the technology of the future
Martin Schinnerl, Research Associate in the Department of Technical Thermodynamics, is one of the people responsible for exactly how machines can implement this. He developed the prototype control software “3DConFil”, which can also serve as a link between conventional software and hardware. This also makes “3DConFil” compatible for use or conversion of existing systems.
3D printed clear glass
Several student teams have also been involved in research on “3DConFil” since 2018. The innovation is now protected by a German patent and an international patent is under review. “We are doing pioneering work”, are convinced Kirchner and Steffan.
Funded at €100,000
Accordingly, the Pioneer Fund of the TU Darmstadt is supporting the project with around €100,000. Euro. The financing is intended to increase the team to four people and to strengthen the economic model of “3DConFil”. The objective is market maturity by 2024 and the creation of a start-up. The researchers are preparing follow-on funding for their spin-off with an EXIST grant from the Federal Ministry of Economics. “The Pioneer Fund bridges the gap between idea and seed funding,” says project coordinator Steffan.