The Pioneer: Taking Additive Manufacturing into the 21st Century

"We could make it even better," thinks Frank Pfister, a travel-obsesed design engineer at Concept Laser, about every new design project. When Frank starts talking about topology optimization and bionics for laser melting metals, the 29-year-old is fully in his element.

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Frank puts all previous solutions for cutting or casting metal to the test in the process-oriented design of rapid prototyping “For me, it is always exciting to see how the creative and geometrical freedom of additive manufacturing AM yields completely new component solutions. Not only do they look different, they are capable of more,” says Frank.

Frank is a state-certified engineer and started his career as a precision mechanic for a toolmaker, where the machining thought process focused on subtractive manufacturing – taking material from steel. So why did he switch to the additive faction? In tool making of injection molding tools, contour-close cooling is used. This involves inserts made through additive processes that improve the cooling time of the injection molding cycle by 20-30%. Working with these tool inserts, Frank began to explore thinking and constructing in an additive manner.

In 2014, he joined Concept Laser to focus entirely on AM. “AM is a new technology, for which you have to acquire the knowledge on your own. Many ideas are created through trial-and-error. How does innovation emerge? I find that exciting,” says the AM pioneer designer. Because proper AM training is only just being established, Frank is something of an “old hand”. In trainings, he imparts AM design knowledge to customers. “Buying an AM system from Concept Laser is one thing. But what really matters is the process-oriented construction: AM’s clever design,” he notes. Self-made professionals like Frank are important in a new discipline, such as AM. Incidentally, he also works in committees for additive standards. Here, the future is formed first hand. Frank says, “I’m proud to be part of Industry 4.0.”

Free thinking in construction motivates Frank in his daily work at Concept Laser. “Free-form surfaces, cavities and undercuts – our LaserCUSING process offers design engineers all of this, in order to develop completely new component solutions,” he says.

Passion for AM radiates from every employee at Concept Laser in Lichtenfels. And you can see it radiating from Frank, too. “My heart beats for the world of AM. There is always something new happening here. It is a generative technology that is fundamentally changing our view of manufacturing as a major force worldwide,” says the design engineer full of wanderlust.

From his field of work, he shows us a bionic robot with a gripper made as a marketing project. Specialists from production and manufacturing refer to these as Cartesian robots or gantry robots and are often used in industrial automation solutions.

At first glance, the robot looks like its from the 21st century. Its movements are more delicate – with conventional robots looking “old school” in comparison. Of course, the immense amount of AM design knowledge can be found in the details. Frank optimized the topology of the gripper made of aluminum (AL). His team analyzed the lines of force and removed material where possible. The load capacity compared to a conventional solution is now equivalent. The key feature, however, is the reduction in material – with a total of 55% less compared to a traditionally manufactured bionic gripper.

The project was completed using Concept Laser’s machine benchmark – the M2 cusing Multilaser. The material savings were made possible thanks to the optimal alignment of the components in the build envelope of the M2 cusing system. They stand upright in the build envelope with minimal support structures. That means little rework is necessary.

Thirty one bionic grippers can be created on one build plate at the same time — and their design reflects everything that forms AM’s appeal: topology and bionics. Lightweight construction and component performance. “Economy meets resource conservation. That is the core of AM,” says Frank on his experiences in the project.

When not at work, Frank enjoys traveling to foreign countries. He likes foreign cultures and trying to gain a better understanding of the people there. Openness and curiosity – great conditions for his work with customers. 2013 he took a year-longbreak from work to travel the world. Along with a friend, he converted an old four-wheel drive truck into a motorhome and drove 12.500 miles from Occident to the Orient and even further. Always driven by their motto: One life. Live it.

At GE Additive, Frank will support the AddWorks network. AddWorks consists of 1,000 designers and engineers who provide customers with additive manufacturing strategies.

Frank is already looking forward to working with his colleagues and customers around the globe: Traveling is part of his nature. And his bags are packed. A young AM design pioneer sets out on a journey in the 21st century.