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Oct. 2014, Issue 12

Welcome to the Shanghai-based RIF, your premier source for remanufacturing news, views and forecasts. It is currently the only Chinese-English bilingual e-publication focused on the reman industry.

Reman on the Moon

3D Printing: The Future of Remanufacturing

3D Printing: The Future of Remanufacturing

RIF interviewed 3D Printing Expert, Dr. Michael Haselkorn, Director of the Material Science and Engineering Laboratory at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology.

By John Daly john.daly@duxes.cn Rochester, USA - Wed Sep 24, 2014.

To date, the remanufacturing process has often been a very labor intensive procedure and requires highly skilled and qualified workers. Due to additive manufacturing or 3D printing however, the remanufacturing industry is evolving. I discussed the onset of remanufacturing using 3D printing with Dr. Michael Haselkorn, from the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, part of the Rochester Institute of Technology which specializes in remanufacturing research. Researchers at Golisano are developing the process of 3D printing in remanufacturing in order to further understand it and transfer the method into the industry.

3D printing in manufacturing involves building up material layers to make new parts. One huge advantage of using 3D printing in remanufacturing, according to Dr. Haselkorn, is "when you can't get that part anymore, you can use 3D printing to make that part." Additional additive manufacturing processes such as 'laser sintering', welding and 'thermal spraying' are used to bring worn parts or cores back to their original dimensions. These worn parts are no longer useful because "their dimensions are all off"; and additive manufacturing including the 3D printing technique "builds the core back the original part dimensions."

The Golisano Institute for Sustainability's research has been focused predominantly on auto, aerospace and medical remanufacturing. These sectors are driving the research because "those are the industries where it's cost effective to use it, where you have complex parts and they are expensive to fabricate and you need to reduce cost." Once more, "the remanufacturing process from aerospace, to diesel engines to office furniture is all the same, just the parts are different." The institute's research looks at "how we can take the additive manufacturing and either build up the surface to its original dimensions or function or change the properties of the surface to improve its properties so we get a better part, because a remanufactured part is equal to or better than a new part. In addition, if we could change the surface of the part and have it perform better, we can get an increased lifetime out of the part."

In terms of the products remanufactured, Dr. Haselkorn said he focuses on "applications as opposed to components", with research directed at "anywhere there's gears, rotating and sliding parts" such as cylinder heads or bearing shafts. Their work looks to enhance worn parts by improving the surface to reduce the amount of ware, for example by reducing the corrosion that has changed the surface of the parts.

Remanufacturing using 3D printing is still in its early days. 3D printers are often too expensive for smaller companies who make up the majority of remanufacturers. However, they are slowly being adapted by larger companies who see its long term cost benefits. General Electric is one such company already using the method. Dr. Haselkorn envisions "being able to take a part, a surface that you can trace with a 3D laser", take this "scan of a surface, put it into an SDL File, put it into your additive remanufacturing machine and do remanufacturing that way." The transformation from what is normally a labor intensive process into a more automated one by remanufacturing with additive manufacturing is also a substantial motivation for remanufacturers to 3D print. In various reman sectors, such as aerospace and auto, companies require highly trained and skilled technical employees who can be difficult and expensive to find. 3D printing solves this problem and could really boost the entire industries' growth.

As mentioned previously, a sizeable motivation for additive manufacturing in this sector is that you can "make new parts when you can't get old parts." Remanufacturing involves missing, irreparable as well as worn parts, and using 3D printing means that "instead of having to gas it or machine it you can fabricate a small number of the parts with a 3D printer", which significantly makes sense as it is not always "cost effective to make new parts." Furthermore, "with a 3D printer you can make existing parts better, by changing or adding material to the surface." The technique is also apt when reman requires "complex and small parts."The 3D printers themselves are also intriguing. In the Netherlands for example, 3D printers are being used to print entire houses. When talking about what these printers are capable of Dr. Haselkorn told me "you need to think about the chamber, you need to think how big your machine needs to be to print. So if you are going to print a house, that 3D printer is going to need to be bigger than a house or do sections of the house. So one of the limitations is how you build up one layer at a time, whether you use laser sintering, sterolithography or any other of the 3D printing techniques you are building the part up one layer at a time so you need to be able to support it during the build. And that becomes difficult as parts get bigger."

He also mentioned metal printing, "one of the things we are looking at is the sintering process and how it relates to the properties of the final component. Defects during the build process will cause a decrease in the mechanical and physical properties and therefore understanding and identifying those defects and what causes them are important because you don't want defects in the final part that could decrease its properties."

The Golisano Institute is not the only organization that is researching 3D printing in remanufacturing; the Advanced Remanufacturing Technology Centre in Singapore is also conducting its own investigations. Moreover, with this research coming into effect worldwide and powerful industry players such as General Electric having already implemented the technique, 3D printing is changing the way remanufacturing is being done; and with its myriad benefits will likely become a staple for multifarious remanufacturing companies as the industry continues to evolve.

With Special Thanks to Dr. Michael Haselkorn.

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