The motto of Stellba AG stands for what also characterises the additive manufacturing of the CHIRON Group: Innovation, customer benefit, partnership. It "matches" between the Swiss specialist for coating and machining solutions and the Additive Manufacturing division headed by Axel Boi. The AM Cube pilot project, the first industrial use of the CHIRON Group's 3D metal printer, shows just how well.
Experiencing Fouad Cheaitani, Head of Sales, Customer Support and Business Development at Stellba, and Axel Boi in a digital technical discussion feels like being a spectator in a high-class table tennis match. The balls fly at lightning speed, the mental passes are precise, the returns bring a new twist. Both are in their element and visibly proud of the result of their development partnership: an AM Cube that has gained further options and thus application diversity since its market launch in 2020. But one thing after the other ...
Deepening and expanding competences
As a specialist for customised coating and machining solutions, Stellba has extensive expertise in thermal spraying, welding and plasma powder build-up welding. As early as 2014, the company began to apply laser technologies and invested in its first laser welding system. The aim was to optimise the technology for use at Stellba and, according to Fouad Cheaitani, to transfer the processing of "XXL workpieces and components" to the system. The main focus was on processes where conventional methods delivered good results but not "Swiss quality".
Building up know-how, looking for and finding new partners
So they gradually built up know-how, networked with specialists and research institutions and became aware of the activities of the CHIRON Group's Additive Manufacturing division. When Stellba was looking for a partner in autumn 2019 to expand its competences beyond coating to the construction of workpieces and to be able to answer enquiries about the production of small series, Fouad Cheaitani contacted Axel Boi. They were immediately on the same wavelength and the contracts were signed before Christmas. Two things were important for Fouad Cheaitani: "We didn't want a ready-made system that we would have had to convert to fit us first. In addition, we are a small company and didn't want to play a very small song in concert with large OEMs."
Flexibility. In additive manufacturing, in exchange.
Axel Boi was immediately ready to work with Stellba to teach the AM Cube the desired "imagination in the system" over and above the qualities already present: new options for maximum flexibility. Stellba is a service provider, the requirements are different every day: processing with 4 or 5 axes, wire or powder, material application with lance or nozzle, preheating of the parts to 300 degrees, welding under argon inert gas atmosphere to avoid oxidation and pore formation. Every project brings new challenges, all of which the AM Cube is designed to handle with aplomb.
Coating, 3D printing, repair
Automatic application head change
Welding consumables as wire or powder
3-, 4- or 5-axis
Programming in DIN ISO or CAM
Innovative user interface with the SmartLine module TouchLine
Comprehensive quality monitoring with DataLine AM and VisioLine AM
High speed, always
In order to translate the many different specifications into practical solutions, there is close and constructive cooperation in Dottikon, Switzerland, and in Tuttlingen, Germany. The application engineers, material specialists and software developers from Stellba and the Additive Manufacturing department regularly exchange ideas, combine competences and check new approaches for feasibility. Concerns about whether the CHIRON Group would be able to keep up with this pace given its size were quickly dispelled. According to Axel Boi, "The additive manufacturing sector is run like a start-up and is therefore dynamic and flexible. Through the CHIRON Group, however, we have the backing and further specialist personnel that we can access."
In focus at Stellba: new materials and possibilities
Fouad Cheaitani sees himself on the side of the material - here, too, "the chemistry" with the CHIRON Group is right. For him, not only does everything have to fit on the software side and with the technology, but, for optimal results, also the material: "In the future, we not only want to build components with the existing material spectrum of wire or powder, but also develop new materials and job materials on this basis that are perfectly suited for additive manufacturing. With which, for example through additives or new compositions, the desired mechanical values can be achieved and new material properties realised."
Whether this is better done with wire or powder? On the one hand, it's a matter of experience, on the other hand, the ideal is approached in trials. Compared to the development and approval of completely new materials, these lead to the desired result much more quickly.
Easy to use: a real unique selling point
But from the future of additive manufacturing back to practice. It is important to master the highly complex technology safely and to minimise operating errors. The central advantage of the AM Cube is, according to Fouad Cheaitani, "the automatic application head change. Whether wire or powder, 3D printing or coating, inside or outside: what takes hours with other manufacturers is done here without manual intervention and safely in just one minute. That is absolutely unrivalled!"
Variety as a goal - goal achieved!
Coating, 3D printing, repair: all possible with the AM Cube. And, as various applications at Stellba show: Everything is feasible. Since commissioning, various research projects with renowned technical universities in Switzerland as well as different orders have been running on the 3D metal printer: Half-shells for brakes in rail vehicles are welded, components are coated inside with aluminium bronze, turbine blades are repaired. Currently, a large impeller for a turbine is being built completely additively. Furthermore, Stellba carries out repairs on components on the AM Cube and works intensively on the qualification of new materials such as tungsten carbide or nickel-based materials.
In the meantime, the testing phase has been completed, the AM Cube has mastered the most diverse industrial requirements with flying colours, and the jointly developed options are now available to all users. In addition, the welding process in the AM Cube can now be recorded and documented in real time - with the new digital systems VisioLine AM and DataLine AM.
The question remains: will additive manufacturing replace existing technologies? Here, too, Fouad Cheaitani and Axel Boi agree: no, but engineers have more options when developing components - both in terms of lower part weight and saving energy, as well as in design.