At Ericsson, additive manufacturing has primarily been a research and pre-development area. But things are now about to change. With its partnership in the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing, Ericsson is seeking to increase its pace of development within AM and receive help in unanswered questions about sustainability, choice of technology, and new knowledge for production.
In 2019, Ericsson started the AM Research Program to obtain more knowledge about additive manufacturing. Since then, the technology has been used for short batches of small components and unique solutions that cannot be manufactured in any other way. It is now time to shift things up a gear, and partnership in the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing is part of that strategy.
“We want to increase the pace of development in the AM area,” says Mikael Wahlén, Project Manager in Hardware Research at Ericsson. “The partnership increases awareness, understanding of the area, and knowledge internally.”
Several parts of the organisation will be involved in the Center, including Product Development such as; Radio, Mechanical, and Industrial Design, Material and HW Technology research. The Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility department will support planned activities.
“Sustainability is an important parameter in additive manufacturing. But just how important is it?” asks Wahlén and immediately answers:
“Manufacturing products with AM will not be cheaper from day one, it will probably be more expensive initially, which means it is difficult to convince others that we should adopt to AM. Therefore, we need to spread knowledge and investigate how advantageous it can be. At the same time, AM could contribute to Ericsson’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.”
Wahlén emphasises the importance of showing what additive manufacturing and design can be used for and why, otherwise its adoption will be challenging. In this, he feels that the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing plays an important role:
“I don’t have all these arguments clearly set out, which is why I’m so interested in finding a price tag or business case for AM, and I hope I can get help with that.”
Ericsson hopes the Center will assist in several matters, such as investigating how innovatively new component solutions can be achieved.
“There are opportunities to develop designs that, for example, could lead to a new type of antenna that cannot be developed in any other way,” explains Wahlén. “Getting the organisation to adopt this kind of thinking is exciting.”
Ericsson also wants to reduce the weight of its components, which is also linked to sustainability.
“All aspects must be included, but we have not yet understood everything that AM entails. That’s one of the reasons we are involved, we want to learn more.”
Additive manufacturing can also make it possible to move production closer to the customer. For Ericsson, this could involve larger components, such as radomes, which are plastic enclosures that protect antennas.
“It would be very beneficial if we could 3D print the radomes, but it’s not possible today, since existing machines cannot cope with the sizes and tolerances we require,” says Wahlén. “For this, we are very interested in understanding which technology, which machine and which process technology could optimally handle our components in the best way.”
Another question that Ericsson wants help to answer:
“How do we take this from small batch production to mass production?” asks Wahlén. “We deliver quite a lot of radio systems in various combinations – we are talking millions of components.”
For Ericsson, it is important that all partners are allowed to contribute their expertise to the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing, and Mikael Wahlén looks forward to learn from other companies in other industries:
“I feel it’s important to have good dialogue, an open culture of sharing, and a common interest, this should mean that we have common interest of research.”
Among other things, Ericsson can contribute its expertise in materials technology.
“Material is the major challenge in the AM world; all materials behave differently, and engineers are needed who can simulate a solution as well as understand the result of a manufactured component,” says Wahlén.
Perhaps it is important to think a little differently when it comes to AM and to persuade the entire industry to change an ingrained way of thinking.
“It’s therefore essential that we find collaborations between the companies in the Center in order for knowledge to be spread,” says Wahlén. Otherwise, there is a risk that the knowledge gets stuck in different niches.
“Cooperation is key to success and enables work to be carried out that would be much more difficult to do alone.”
In the AM Center we offer the opportunity to test different additive manufacturing techniques including pre- and post-processing. We lower the threshold, and give small and medium-sized companies quick and easy access to the latest technology. The AM Center offers a wide range of expertise and services at all stages along the additive manufacturing value chain, for example in: