Automotive market: New opportunities with SLM technology

Metal-based additive manufacturing is revolutionizing the automotive market. From high-performance racing cars to production vehicles, the advantages of this groundbreaking technology, such as new design freedom and increased functionality, are fueling demand.

Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH

Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH is a family-run tool and machine manufacturer that is typical for the German “Mittelstand”. The company currently has 25 employees and three apprentices. The management attaches great importance to the in-house training of the junior staff.

The tool and machine manufacturer from Ahrensburg near Hamburg, Germany, is specialized in the manufacturing of tools, machines, and components for small and medium enterprises from different industries. Due to the high quality and preciseness Lenk has achieved an excellent reputation and has become a well-known supplier for many high-grade industries. In most cases, products are manufactured to customer specifications. If required, the company also supports its clients with construction and technical drawing.


The challenge: The way from the classic tool and machine manufacturing to high-tech production

Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH and SLM are connected by a unique story. First contacts were established in 2006. At that time, SLM Solutions was in search of a tool manufacturer to construct the prototype of a buildchamber for the SLM 250 and plant manager W. Glahner commissioned Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH with the construction and production of the prototype.

The tool and machine manufacturer eroded the build chamber from one single metal block with high precision. SLM Solutions was absolutely enthusiastic about the high quality and precision. All fits had been so precisely executed that reworking was not necessary. And from this first contact, a lasting business partnership soon developed.

Rolf Lenk was integrated into the entire production process of new components for prototypes and small series. Based on technical drawings parts for the coater and the SLM 500 were developed, implemented and further reworked.


SLM Solution: New business ideas through additive manufacturing

And development progressed! The deep insights into the additive manufacturing using the SLM technology inspired Lenk to try new production techniques. A customer request in 2013 then resulted in the order of their first SLM 280. Today, Lenk produces prototypes and components for small series as contract manufacturer. The customers come from areas such as medical technology, tool technology, automotive, engine technology, and underwater technology.


An example from practice: Spare parts supply

One example from the area parts supply may represent many others: the cover for the control box of a Cadillac Eldorado, model of 1967. More and more frequently, customers ask Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH to reproduce some spare parts for which there are no construction plans or cannot be found. And Lenk has developed its own method, especially for such cases. First, the damaged part is scanned completely using a 3D scanner. The recorded data are then transferred into a CAD drawing and converted into the original state using a remodeling process. The preparations required for the control box cover amounted to 21 hours. And then additive manufacturing on an SLM machine commenced. The newly created CAD data are read-in and produced using an aluminum alloy (AlSi10Mg). Using two parallel lasers for the reproduction of the 2.32 kg part, the SLM 280 requires 42 hours. The final fine-tuning required another 13 hours. In total 75 hours were necessary to create this first new spare part.

The effort for the next identical components was further reduced to 55 hours. However, this major breakthrough for Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH was not limited to the oldtimer market. Many industry branches had similar problems: they were no longer able to use proven machines and systems because spare parts were no longer available.

This new solution approach gives rise to the hope to be capable to manufacture required spare parts in 100% of all cases.

Today, an SLM 500 and a further SLM 280 are deployed at Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH in the manufacturing process. Gregor Sodeikat, managing director at Rolf Lenk Werkzeug- und Maschinenbau GmbH, cannot imagine his company without the innovative technology of additive manufacturing: “As a classic medium-sized company, we are always open to new technologies. Therefore, we were immediately enthusiastic when we got to know additive manufacturing as latest technology in the area of metalworking. The SLM technology gives us the opportunity to address new customer segments, to optimize and develop new products. Now   our company can meet many customer expectations; we are well-positioned, future-oriented and fit for the next generation.”

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