Ultimately, SMS does not want to limit its AM activities to the design and production of machine components, but seeks to offer integrated solutions for the complete AM process chain.

Markus Hüllen, vice president of the 3D competence centre, says: “The successful commissioning of the powder atomisation plant marks a milestone for SMS Group because it ensures the quality we need to make high-quality 3D-printed metal components. Our objective is to master – and allow our customers to master – the complete process chain of this innovative technology. For this reason we deliberately chose to build an industrial scale pilot plant. Only this way can we test the process under realistic conditions, namely at high temperatures and pressures, and in extended production runs. We also work with a co-operation partner, Additive Industries, a developer and provider of selective laser melting [SLM] systems for 3D metal powder printing. We plan to set up a demonstration centre at our facilities in Mönchengladbach, which will comprise all process steps of AM.“

The demonstation centre will be the first of its kind as it will allow customers to experience the complete process chain of AM, from powder production, powder handling, 3D printing, heat treatment and machining, through to inspection, quality checks, logistics and the automation system.

SMS Group has been co-operating with Additive Industries in the development of processes that keep the powder under vacuum during all process steps. The vacuum prevents the powder from contaminating in any way and ensures that the components produced will be of high quality.

“It is our objective is to offer our customers complete AM plants on a turnkey basis,“ says Hüllen. “By integrating the entire process chain, from powder production to the finished products, we ensure a high and reproducible quality for series production. The pilot plant will allow us to optimise the processes so as to maximise productivity and minimise costs. Our customers will receive modular, scalable solutions tailored to their individual requirements.“

In a further move based on its corporate-wide ‘New Horizon‘strategy, SMS Group is bundling all future oriented activities in connection with AM, digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and newly developed materials. The thinking behind this strategy is the fact that all these areas are interconnected and can only be advanced in a concerted approach.