The economic development area around Barcelona, in Catalonia (Spain), has established itself as a leading hub for 3D printing and additive manufacturing, driven by the many local activities in the fields of design, computing, aerospace and automotive. The fact that HP, the world’s largest company directly involved in additive manufacturing, is based here in Sant Cugat, is a key driver of the region’s global leadership. At the same time, Catalan institutions and technology organizations such as Leitat have embraced AM as a key driver of economic growth tomorrow (and today). All of this know-how and capabilities have been brought together in the DFactory factory, as well as the HP factory and the IAM3DHUB lab, which 3dpbm was recently invited to visit.
DFactory was created with the support of Leitat to become a hub for creating an ecosystem to encourage the promotion and development of Industry 4.0. The center is a tool to accelerate the transformation of the productive framework of Southern Europe and support companies in their digitalization process. The modern and sleek facility is promoted and managed by the Consorci de la Zona Franca de Barcelona, which works to make Barcelona the center of innovation 4.0 in Southern Europe. It promotes an ecosystem to attract talent, technology and investment in a single space that brings together the most innovative companies and the most forward-looking technological projects.
Designed by Torrella Engineering, in collaboration with PGI Engineering, Turull Sorensen and Ágora Project Management – Tüv Sud, the DFactory building stands out for the style of its architecture, combining the industrial style of the old factories with a glass finish, spaces open interiors and state-of-the-art technology for sustainable buildings.
The first floor (of four) is the largest and is also where most of the activities related to additive manufacturing take place. As you enter the facility, on the right is the new HP Factory, which opened in September last year. On the left side is the space dedicated to IAM3DHUB, an advanced multi-technology lab founded to drive the adoption of AM technologies.
Inside the HP factory
With more than 20 HP Jet Fusion 5200 series 3D printers in operation, the new HP factory is one of the largest automated AM-based Industry 4.0 factories in the world. Pablo Murciego, HP Plant Manager, took the time to show us around and detail the plant’s current and upcoming capabilities in terms of automation and productivity.
The HP factory is divided into 3 main areas and occupies a total of 1,200 square meters, of which 900 square meters is factory space, while the rest is split between warehouse and office space. The objective of the installation is threefold. For one thing, it’s a full production facility, delivering parts for key specific applications and customers where HP has decided to play. On the other hand, it is intended to help HP engineers learn and continuously improve the end-to-end additive workflow, as well as to be a showcase for key customers. Finally, HP can help customers internalize and scale production using MJF by developing and validating additive manufacturing solutions from an end/end point of view.
This process includes a part evaluation phase, with alignment to product quality control and process acceptance. This is followed by what Murciego calls Production Burst, validating and identifying consistent variables in the workflow and setting process capacity goals. The last phase, called Bridge to Scale, is to develop the plant master plan, with the deployment of MJF plant hardware and software, optimization of TCO (total cost of ownership) objectives and opportunities automation.
Based on the ISO 52920 standards (Additive manufacturing — Qualification principles — Requirements for industrial additive manufacturing processes and production sites), the production value chain of the HP factory consists of 8 stages. The workflow starts with verifying part requirements, then moves to design and job preparation. Powder (material) management starts with the next phase of raw material management (including material control, system maintenance, calibration, etc.) and moves to the actual 3D printing process (including including quality management system, telemetry data and powder quality control). It continues with post-processing (cooling and unpacking) and ends with part-specific post-processing (cleaning). The final steps involve part quality assessment, packing (sorting) and shipping.
Even with its existing large-batch mass production capabilities, HP’s state-of-the-art factory is itself considered a work in progress, constantly evolving. Many parts of the workflow, from material sourcing to several aspects of part mining, post-processing and finishing, have already been highly automated. Murciego and his team identified other areas and opportunities to further improve the process, primarily focusing on PT/Process Time (the duration of the end-to-end workflow), LUR/Hand Utilization Rate (the total labor content divided by the sum of the labor content and the total idle time) and QA/Quality Assurance (the robustness of the process in terms of reproducibility and repeatability).
In the IAM3DHUB lab
To some extent, this is exactly the goal of IAM3DHUB. The lab is located directly across from the HP factory on the first floor of the DFactory and conducts research on various AM post-processing technologies, materials and systems, including PBF metal laser for metal. IAM3DHUB welcomes partners across the AM spectrum and works with them, as well as potential AM adopters, to explore the possibilities each technology offers. Ramon Pastor, vice president and general manager of HP 3D Printing Business, is also the president of IAM3DHUB, which shows how involved and invested HP is in the lab. However, in line with HP’s overall goal to expand AM adoption and expand the AM market, the lab’s goal is to accelerate the adoption and development of additive manufacturing technologies by Europe as an alternative to design, develop and manufacture new competitive products and services that strengthen their competitiveness.
As a digital innovation hub and additive manufacturing competence center, IAM3DHUB offers SMEs a one-stop-shop to assess, guide and meet all their AM needs. To do this, the lab can rely on official AM industry partners, including hardware companies like HP, Renishaw and Massivit, materials companies like BASF, AM service experts like Materialize, and post processing such as AMT, AM Solutions and GPA Innova/DLyte, as well as local government support. Other companies, like BigRep, are not official partners but make their technologies available.
The Metals Lab within IAM3DHUB provides access to SLM technology via a Renishaw RenAM 500 system. This has brought immediate benefits to metal AM users and to Renishaw, which has seen the installed base of its metal AM systems grow in Spain in recent years. The Polymers Lab is larger and divided into two main areas: extrusion-based technology and powder-based technology. IAM3DHUB is researching several different filament extrusion systems, including a large format BigRep machine, as well as most variations of vat light curing processes (SLA, DLP, LCD). Powder technology research is currently focused on HP’s MJF process, in a dedicated lab, although participation is open to all other companies in this segment. Another large polymer machine from Massivit, which implements a unique gel deposition process for the high-speed production of very large parts, is also present in the external area of the laboratory, where there are also many post systems. -treatment. This larger outer area also features a voxeljet sand-based VX200 system.
Ongoing research at the lab focuses on Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) and Engineering for Additive Manufacturing (EfAM), as well as guiding management and technical teams to identify opportunities to transform the FA, by developing cost-optimized adoption and implementation strategies. Companies can also turn to IMA3DHUB for employee training, E2E networking and, most importantly, testing before investing.
A standard collaboration project is underway with an experimentation phase to identify and create new products, applications and tools that can benefit from AM. These are then compared using different AM technologies and materials. The most suitable solutions are selected to create the final applications and are validated to meet the desired mechanical and functional requirements. The final stage, implementation, focuses on scaling the use of AM by implementing workflows and production equipment. Having one of the largest MJF factories in the world right next door, inside the DFactory, is handy.