Home Industry Fraunhofer ILT: 3D Printing enables Integrated Sensor Technology

Fraunhofer ILT: 3D Printing enables Integrated Sensor Technology

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is presenting the latest developments in the field of additive manufacturing at formnext. The focus here is on integrated sensors produced using 3D printing that can provide real-time data for predictive maintenance. This innovative technology promises precise condition analysis and a wide range of applications in various industrial sectors.

Until now, sensors were manually applied to the surfaces of components, which was often inaccurate and not reproducible. With Fraunhofer ILT’s new process, sensors can now be integrated directly into the components. This makes it possible to collect important data on loads within the components themselves.

Samuel Moritz Fink, Group Leader Thin Film Processes at Fraunhofer ILT explains: “Manual application of sensors is too imprecise and not reproducible in many cases. In addition, users are increasingly demanding processes that can be automated.”

An impressive example of this technology is a passenger car control arm with an additively manufactured sensor, which will be presented at formnext.

“The force sensor that we printed on the transverse link is less than 200 µm thick, including the insulation and protective layer as well as electrical connections,” says Fink. “We can determine the forces acting in the application at any given time.”

The potential applications of this technology are diverse. They range from the individual monitoring of battery cells to the optimization of maintenance intervals for offshore wind turbines and the improvement of processes in the mechanical and plant engineering industry.

“The force sensor registers the smallest cracks that occur before they lead to component failure,” says the group leader. “It can be used, for example, to monitor battery cells individually, optimize maintenance intervals for offshore wind turbines or improve processes in mechanical and plant engineering,” continues Fink.

Another Fraunhofer ILT innovation is the seamless integration of sensors during the additive manufacturing process. Using 3D structural printing processes such as Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), sensors can be integrated directly into components as they are being manufactured. This enables precise placement of sensors for sophisticated condition analysis while protecting them from mechanical environmental influences.

“The geometry of the sensors can be customized depending on the component. In the future even additional functional elements such as integrated heaters are conceivable,” says Samuel Fink. “This technology opens up a wide range of possible applications, from manufacturing in the areas of toolmaking and mechanical engineering to the automotive industry and beyond in the energy, aerospace and aeronautics sectors.”

The presentation at formnext 2023 promises an exciting insight into the future of additive manufacturing and smart sensor technology. Fraunhofer ILT continues to drive the development of precise and innovative solutions that could improve industry in many ways.

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