“Factory to go” brings manufacturing directly to the place where it is needed

“Factory to go” brings manufacturing directly to the place where it is needed

Technology News |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

There are situations in which a specific, very individual part must be procured very quickly: A broken front suspension in a Formula 1 race, for example, or a bone drill template for accident patients. With conventional spare parts logistics, it can take a long time for the desired part to arrive on site.

In the future, this will be faster because these parts and templates can then be produced close to the end user – for example near the hospitals. This is made possible by a mobile factory called “CassaMobile”, which was developed in the EU project of the same name by twelve European companies and institutes under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA. The idea and the concept also originate from the Fraunhofer IPA. “The mobile factory can reduce the delivery time from up to one week to two days,” says project manager Raphael Adamietz. The Italian word “CassaMobile” means nothing else than “mobile container”. Although the green and white container looks unimpressive from the outside, the impression is misleading: an intelligent mini factory is hidden inside. In it, the desired parts can be produced as 3D prints, reworked in a milling machine, qualitatively checked and, if necessary, packaged sterile.

For the operators, the mobile factory offers various advantages. Firstly, there is the great flexibility: the researchers have chosen the dimensions of the container in such a way that it can barely be driven over the roads without an escort. Companies only need to purchase their equipment once and can use it where they need it – saving money and protecting the environment. You can start immediately on site: The container is transported fully equipped to its destination, where it only needs electricity, water and compressed air.

Since production can be carried out in close proximity to the customer, delivery times are significantly reduced. This could lead to more sales: Because if the delivery takes too long, one or the other may decide in favour of a product that is available more quickly.

Inside, you will see a modular, smart, connected
production system on a very small footprint

Other tailor-made products can also be manufactured directly on site within a very short time – after all, the researchers deliberately designed the factory in a modular way. The process chain can be flexibly changed or extended, individual modules can also be omitted. For example, the mobile factory can be used in disaster areas after earthquakes. It produces the components that the THW urgently needs on site – for example to restore the drinking water supply. Also conceivable are productions in areas where it would be very time-consuming to set up a factory, as there is a lack of suitable buildings and the necessary infrastructure. CassaMobile has its own complete infrastructure ready and could, for example, produce car spare parts that are in short supply in remote regions of the world.

The core module of the production plant is a 3D printer developed at the IPA. The researchers combined two materials for printing. “We usually use polyamide for the component itself. We first fill the areas where we do not want to have any material later with a support material, which we then dissolve in a solvent,” explains Adamietz. In this way, the researchers can produce three-dimensional free-formed structures. The printing materials are available as rolled up plastic cords. This is melted and deposited in a line on the substrate. To make the surface homogeneous and the component dimensionally stable, the researchers also heat up the installation space.

A camera monitors the entire printing process and helps to correct errors immediately. This reduces waste, improves quality and saves time-consuming manual checks. The components produced are therefore already very precise. If a surface is not ideal, it can be reworked using a milling module. If sterile products are required as with the bone drilling template, the product is cleaned wet, sterilized with steam and packaged sterile. In order to remove impurities from the air in the container, it is constantly circulated and pressed through air filter units. A central computer connects all components and controls the entire production system.

More information:

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