TCAM: Technical Coatings for Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is known as an unsurpassed technology for making single piece prototypes of complex plastic and metal products in a short time. As most AM products still have an irregular line-structure after production, post processing involves a manual labor intensive polishing and possibly spraying a decorative coating (using a can). Today, there is a trend to produce small series of AM products that are effectively used in real industrial and consumer applications. This implies a constant high surface quality which cannot be guaranteed with manual polishing and a functional coating with specific properties adapted to the application. This project will investigate the possibilities to apply coatings which eliminate the initial line-structured surface roughness and, at the same time, incorporate the requested functionalities to the surface (e.g. chemical resistance, anti-microbial, scratch resistance, wear-resistance or low-friction). To reach a reliable upscaling of small series of AM products, this process will be automated using a flexible industrial cheap robot with a new generation „teach by demonstration“ functionality, bringing automation within reach of less research intensive companies. As a result, the post processing can become a faster and cost-effective technology to produce consistent high quality AM products.

Different generic AM product cases, defined by the user committee, will be developed to define the best techniques and procedures to reach the defined project goals. Best practise pre-treatment techniques will be selected to ensure a good coating adhesion, depending on the used AM materials. Commercial coatings will be used or modified to the requested properties. State-of-the-art deposition techniques will be used. If applicable, all steps in the post-processing will be performed, using a teach-by-demonstration robot. At the end of the project, a demonstration platform will be operational showing the possibilities of this equipment. When final coated products are ready, application testing will be performed by companies in the user committee and a cost model will be available for the full post-processing. 

Reaching the project goals will decrease the cost for post-processing significantly. By using functional coatings that combine a levelling of the surface roughness and give extra functionality to the products surface, the overall value of the product will increase. The higher value combined with a lower production cost leads to a significant increase of the profit.

The primary target groups are (1) the OEMs within the plastics and metal manufacturing for which form freedom in product design and cost efficient production of small series (10 to 150 parts) is an important leverage for transformation to new products and production techniques. More specific, those with polymer and metal applications that require a high quality surface finish with specific properties. Their requirements will drive the developments and cases. (2) a rapidly growing number of smaller and new AM service providers which are entering the market in polymers and metals and have to adapt to the demands of the new markets. (3) the post-processing (jobcoaters) and automation (robot) providers and integrators.

Sirris and EFDS are member associations reaching mainly small and medium size enterprises in Belgium, Germany and Europe. Their focus is on technology demonstration/transfer, cooperative R&D and consultancy to improve the competitiveness of the companies. Sirris, Fraunhofer IAP and CRM are the research performers in the project bringing specific and complementary technology and expertise into the project. Sirris has 30 years of experience in surface treatments and 25 years in AM technology. Fraunhofer IAP has 25 years of experience in the surface functionalization of materials in general and of organic polymers in particular. CRM has experience in the finishing and coating of metal products.