Additive manufacturing offers a seamless digital process from 3D data to finished product (Photo: Thyssenkrupp)

Hoping to industrialize a new manufacturing technology, Thyssenkrupp has opened a technology center for 3D printing or additive manufacturing.

The German engineering and steel group, a major supplier to the auto industry, said it has already started making customized products from metals and plastics in a single digital process at its TechCenter Additive Manufacturing in Muelheim in western Germany.

“Additive manufacturing is a further step in the digital transformation of our company and an important element of our innovation strategy,” Thyssenkrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger said in a press release.

Additive manufacturing is already used by several carmakers and suppliers to make machine tools or small parts. Thyssenkrupp said the technology would in particular benefit engineering, aerospace, shipbuilding and automotive industries.

At the new Muelheim facility, small teams work with one printer for metals and one for plastics. Both machines use powdered materials to make the finished product based on a CAD file with a 3D design. The products are created by selectively laser melting or sintering to manufacture parts layer by layer. The road from digital data to finished product is seamless and the conventional manufacturing steps of tool or die-making are no longer needed.

Thyssenkrupp is confident 3D printing will be ready for commercial use “in the not-too-distant future.” It said the market for products manufactured using the new technology quadrupled between 2010 and 2015 and it projected a global market of 21 billion dollars by 2020.