Transforming manufacturing with Tecnalia’s advanced 3D printing techniques

MOLDAM hybrid robotic cell: printing (left), machining spindle (middle), 3D printing detail (right)MOLDAM hybrid robotic cell: printing (top-left), machining spindle (top-right), 3D printing detail (bottom)

Meet Tecnalia, a centre of applied research and technological development in Spain that proposes to revolutionise the manufacturing industry by leveraging advanced 3D printing technologies. Tecnalia’s cutting-edge manufacturing technologies enable companies to boost their productivity, offer new and better products and services. As a result, this generates new business opportunities and drives sustainable manufacturing development.

Within Tecnalia, the Production Means Group is composed of more than 50 experts in manufacturing processes, design, automation and robotics with the ability to conceive and develop new additive, subtractive and joining processes together with their required means: machinery, robotics, mechatronics and other related systems.

This group secured funding from EIT Manufacturing with an investment of EUR 849 944, through the MOLDAM project in 2023 in collaboration with companies Aernnova and Suzlon (end-users), Aritex (integrator) and the LMS (Laboratory for Manufacturing and Systems Automation) of the University of Patras. Additionally, Gurit (manufacturer of moulds) and Adaxis (robotics software provider) made important contributions to the project.

Pioneering pellet extrusion printing technology

The MOLDAM project focuses on the pellet-based extrusion technology for 3D printing. This innovative approach has unlocked a range of possibilities for manufacturing companies, empowering them to manufacture large-scale components from thermoplastic materials efficiently.

The advanced 3D extrusion of pellets has immense potential to transform various industries, including the aerospace, wind, automotive, naval and construction sectors. This technology enables tasks ranging from creating molds and tooling to fabricating specialised components, delivering advantages for manufacturers and their businesses alike.

“Thanks to the MOLDAM project, a hybrid robotic cell allows to fabricate in one single setup large components by pellet-based 3D printing. This includes the required steps of extrusion, inspection and finish machining which are enhanced with a high automation degree during both the design and execution of each of the steps.”

Mariluz Penalva, Ph. D, Senior Researcher & Project Coordinator at Tecnalia

Turning technical hurdles into advantageous opportunities

Despite the immense potential, challenges persist, such as optimising the extrusion process, fine-tuning material properties and managing large volumes of pellets during production. Nevertheless, Tecnalia has addressed these obstacles in the developed solution tailoring the production and post-processing of parts up to 3 meters in length. With interchangeable extrusion, machining, and 3D inspection heads, alongside a scalable linear track for larger parts, this system ensures safe, efficient production. The embedded systems ensure with real-time monitoring and analysis capabilities.

“Currently, printing rates above 10kg/h have been achieved for engineering and high temperature polymers (ex. PA6, PEI) while the extruded materials properties show significant improvements compared to the state of the art.”

Mariluz Penalva, Ph. D, Senior Researcher & Project Coordinator at Tecnalia

Moving forward for future growth

Tecnalia and Aritex are working towards enhancing the solution and improving its overall quality and productivity. In order to achieve this, they are actively looking for companies interested in testing and assessing the cell for both its potential applications and equipment investment. Additionally, a manufacturing service is available for small batches of parts, with applications from various sectors encouraged. This collaborative effort is seen as crucial for fostering future growth and innovation.