Bosch Advanced Ceramics: Driving ceramic additive manufacturing for series production with Lithoz
The production of technical ceramic components has a long history at Robert Bosch GmbH, one of Germany’s industrial giants and a widely recognised name throughout the world thanks to its automotive heritage and leading position in the consumer goods and power tools sectors. The mass production of Bosch’s groundbreaking ceramic spark plug bodies for the automotive industry began at the start of the 20th century and, in 1939, the company registered its first patent for an early version of Ceramic Injection Moulding (CIM).
Today, technical ceramic component manufacturing at Bosch continues apace. In 2016, various operations were brought under the umbrella of Bosch Advanced Ceramics, a new agile organisation that was created as a corporate startup within Bosch Group. Here, existing expertise in technical ceramics production, primarily by CIM, powder compaction and green machining, is used to help drive forward the advancement of the next generation of ceramic processing technology: Additive Manufacturing.
Bosch is, of course, also a major producer of metal injection moulded components. Both its MIM and CIM expertise were developed at the company’s manufacturing plant in Immenstadt, Southern Germany, which is now home to Bosch Advanced Ceramics. Just as Bosch’s expertise in plastic injection moulding furthered the past development of MIM and CIM production, a philosophy of leveraging its existing expertise in materials and process technologies continues as Bosch Advanced Ceramics drives forward its ceramic AM capabilities.
The introduction of ceramic AM at Bosch Advanced Ceramics
Speaking on the decision to pursue ceramic AM at Bosch Advanced Ceramics, Oliver Kriese, founder and Chief Sales/Marketing Officer at Bosch Advanced Ceramics, explained to PIM International, “We started analysing Additive Manufacturing technologies for technical ceramics in 2013. It quickly became apparent that the choice of suitable technologies for our specific range of applications was very limited. Our biggest driver was to significantly shorten the development times for new products. Especially at the beginning of a component's development, when there is a high design variance, it is particularly important to be able to produce functional prototypes quickly.”
However, Kriese explained, “even in the first phase of testing ceramic AM technology, it became apparent that there was a potential for series production. In terms of precision and design freedom, we achieved good results very quickly and our customers were impressed with what the technology could deliver.”
From the start, the company worked with Austria’s Lithoz GmbH as its technology provider. As is the story with so many successful implementations of AM technologies, Bosch Advanced Ceramics took the opportunity to collaborate closely with an AM machine manufacturer to advance the technology to meet its specific requirements. “Thanks to the process expertise that has been gained over decades of Ceramic Injection Moulding within Bosch Advanced Ceramics we were able to contribute some technical improvements in close cooperation with Lithoz to further enhance this technology. As a result, today we are able to offer our customers series production with stable processes and reliable quality,” stated Kriese.
So, whilst initial interest in AM at Bosch Advanced Ceramics was as a prototyping technology, the goal soon changed to using the technology for functional parts manufactured in series. Using its currently-installed machine capacity from Lithoz, Bosch Advanced Ceramics is now able to deliver volume orders for series parts by ceramic AM. “Our mission is to be the leading supplier for industrial manufacturing of ceramic products with AM,” continued Kriese. “With our current AM machine capacity, we can already deliver runs of several thousand parts a year. In the future, we will continue to expand our capacity as required.”
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