Additive manufacturing of functional parts with the Freeformer

Arburg has developed an industrial additive manufacturing system based on processing qualified standard granulates; the Freeformer machine and the Arburg Plastic Freeforming (APF) process.

The Freeformer is claimed to be the first additive manufacturing machine developed by a plastic injection moulding company. It is said to address the market trend for short product life cycles and the growing demand for both the production of high-quality parts as one-off items and the personalisation of mass produced plastics parts.

The APF process has been developed to be more accessible to plastics processing companies such as moulders, using a qualified standard polymer granulate that is cheaper than some additive manufacturing materials.

As with injection moulding, the granulate is first melted in a plasticising cylinder. A stationary discharge unit with a special nozzle then applies the plastic droplets layer-by-layer onto a movable part carrier using high-frequency piezo technology at a specified duty cycle of 60 to 200Hz. The process allows uniform material displacement and is said to create strong, fully functional parts.

The Freeformer is equipped with a movable three-axis part carrier and two stationary discharge units as standard. The second discharge unit can be used for an additional component in order to, for example, produce a part in different colours, with special tactile qualities, or as a hard-soft combination.

An additional advantage of using the Freeformer is that it is claimed to produce no dust or emissions, meaning no extraction units or cooling water are required. This suits the system for use in office and laboratory environments.