6 min read

The king of powder

New possibilities thanks to pioneering manufacturing processes with 3D printing

KSB’s additive manufacturing centre in Pegnitz produces complex components from 3D printers. Marco Linhardt is part of the team that works with these pioneering technologies. We visited him on location to find out more.

More than 1,500 people work at KSB’s location in Pegnitz, Upper Franconia. Many of them develop and produce pumps and valves, others work with materials in the research laboratory or produce cast parts in the foundry. However, Marco Linhardt’s task in additive manufacturing is unique. His job involves using one of the world’s most cutting-edge systems for additive manufacturing using metal-based powder bed fusion. While the term may be rather a mouthful, behind it lies an extremely advanced technology.

First impression: Unlike other production facilities or even the foundry, the manufacturing centre looks more like a laboratory – clean and almost sterile. “We work with new manufacturing processes here; they complement conventional industrial production", Linhardt explains. As he talks about his work, he soon mentions the buzzword 3D printing. “But we prefer the term additive manufacturing because it better reflects the industrial manufacturing aspect”, he says.

During the selective laser melting process, metal in powder form is applied in a thin layer. The laser melts the material and builds it up layer by layer, which is why people in the industry refer to the process as “additive manufacturing”. In classical manufacturing processes, material is removed, for example on a lathe where workpieces are created by machining blanks.

Image of a component on a computer screen
KSB’s additive manufacturing centre in Pegnitz

Complex components are where it shines

Having joined the company in 2009, Linhardt loves his job. The 29-year-old family man began his career at KSB with a dual education programme as an industrial mechanic while studying for a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After graduating, Linhardt took advantage of the available opportunities for further education by studying for a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering while continuing to work for the company.

Today, he is a development engineer and project developer for additive manufacturing – and part of a core team that has been working together since the end of 2017. Fellow team members include specialists from the foundry, production technology, development and the materials laboratory. The colleagues meet every week to discuss their upcoming tasks. “Constructive collaboration with all those involved from the different departments is what makes our work so special”, Linhardt says proudly. As the team has accumulated so much expertise, KSB also operates as a service provider and consultant to the outside world. “Our unique selling point is that we cover the entire process chain thanks to our comprehensive experience in design, construction processes, research and development, and quality inspection and testing”, explains Linhardt.

In the staff kitchen, the engineer talks more about the purpose of his work: “Additive manufacturing opens up new opportunities for us to enhance existing products, for example when designing new pump components.” Among the examples he cites are lower weight, new kinds of properties and lower consumption of materials.

The pioneering process also ensures that less reworking is required on the produced parts. “The new design options enable us to manufacture components that would be almost impossible to produce using conventional means”, says the expert.

Quality, efficiency and sustainability

A good example of a complex component is a volute casing with integrated heating channels. It is used in a pump when the fluid handled must be kept at a certain temperature, for example when transporting vegetable oil or caustic soda.

In the past, it was not possible to produce a part like this as one complete unit; instead, manufacturers welded the channels on afterwards. The additive manufacturing process now enables these parts to produced as if “from a single cast”.

The daily work of the manufacturing specialists also includes manufacturing spare parts for pumps that are no longer being produced. Many of them are wear parts. As there are often no longer any casting patterns for the old pump sets, it would be disproportionately expensive to produce them conventionally. However, with laser powder bed fusion, the parts can be produced quickly and more cheaply. The first step in the process is to scan the old part. It is then refined on the computer and printed. The advantage is that instead of having to completely replace the old pump, the system operator can continue to use the pump set – even years after the last “official” spare part has been produced and supplied. This saves valuable resources.

Back to the manufacturing process: Once the part has been printed, Linhardt dons a dust-proof mask and roughly removes any excess material from the workpieces using a suction hose. The heavy plate with the parts is then hung on a crane for reworking. In a futuristic-looking machine, the specialist thoroughly cleans away the powder residues and collects them for recycling. After heat treatment, he separates the components from the base plate using a saw and then machines them. A strict quality inspection is conducted before the parts are ready for delivery. “Quality is just as important to us as efficiency and sustainability,” says Linhardt.

For Linhardt and his colleagues, the future has already begun as one thing is certain: additive manufacturing is here to stay and will become increasingly important.

KSB employee Marco Linhardt
An ATOS IIe scanner captures an object in 3D

Find out more about additive manufacturing at KSB

KSB is an international pioneer in the ground-breaking technology of additive manufacturing. Thanks to forward-thinking innovation management, we adopted the innovative manufacturing technology of 3D printing at an early stage. This allows KSB to manufacture both small quantities and complex one-off products quickly and efficiently. Find out more about the possibilities of this innovative manufacturing process.