The future sent to print

Anders J. Overgaard moves with familiar ease around the brand new AM laboratory. ‘AM’ stands for Additive Manufacturing, and covers what we call ‘3D printing’ in everyday language. The laboratory was officially opened on 1 September. Within these large bright rooms, packed with printing technology, Grundfos will explore the possibilities offered by the technology and introduce it industrially.

We have worked with 3D printing for over 10 years, but only in connection with prototypes to date. The laboratory will allow us to introduce new materials, including metals, opening up whole new applications.

“Being able to work with more materials, such as metals, will allow us to make tools, as well as more complex components and modules for our products, which can help improve their performance,” explains Thorsten Brorson Otte, Manager in Advanced Manufacturing Engineering and part of the AM lab team.

Anders J. Overgaard, who has worked with prototypes at Grundfos for more than 30 years, adds:

“It also has a huge impact on our production time. 30 years ago, it might have taken 4-5 weeks to make a prototype. 20 years ago, it was 4-5 days. Now we can do it in 4-5 hours,” he explains.

Complex geometries
However, it is not just the speed at which prototypes can be made that has improved. The complexity of the models our developers and designers can introduce into products has also advanced.

“We can introduce even more complex geometries into our development and design work, allowing us to offer customers even better products in the future,” says Ernst Lutz, Group Executive Vice President, Business Development.

He notes that the technology also paves the way for using materials, such as metals, in new and different ways, making it possible to add new elements into development.

The new opportunities the investment in 3D printing are giving Grundfos also prompt a smile from Stéphane Simonetta, Group Executive Vice President in Operations:

“Additive Manufacturing is opening up new opportunities for us in our business, and allows us to deliver complex solutions to our customers even faster."

He also notes that the ability to introduce advanced new production technology is something that will give Grundfos a competitive advantage in the varied and challenging markets of the future.

“We can also introduce more variants and create high quality customised solutions.”

New top quality opportunities

In one of the laboratory’s three rooms, a printer head moves systematically back and forth above the base. A greenish light reveals the contours of an impeller. It is being made of plastic, or more precisely, polymer. We have been working with this material for many years, but thanks to more advanced equipment, the process is even faster now than when we started.

“One thing we are really looking forward to after investing in our 3D printing capacity is the ability to work with many more materials in-house, such as metals. This will allow us to print and produce components we can use in our products, that we would not be able to produce using other processes. For example, using printing technology we can produce components in one piece that would have to be made as several pieces using other manufacturing processes. This increases their inherent strength and improves quality and performance,” says Thorsten Brorson Otte.

He adds that 3D printing is also very resource-efficient, as it only uses the exact quantity of material required to print a component. Any surplus material can mostly be easily reused.

Leading the field
The greenish light from the printer blends with the sunlight from the laboratory windows, and the part quickly takes shape. Each pass the printer head makes adds a new layer. The impeller is complete after around 400 layers have been added. The other rooms house the new investments, including a dual laser system for printing using metal and a new polymer printing system. They are part of the key investment that is putting Grundfos ahead of the field.

“In an industrial context, we’re among the front runners. Particularly when you look at the companies we usually compare ourselves with. I am very excited about continuing the work of exploring and exploiting the unique opportunities this laboratory offers us,” says Thorsten Brorson Otte.

“The future has been sent to the printer, and it includes pumps and production tools – ranging from moulding tools to robotic arms. If it can be designed, it can be printed.