Lighthouse project

Mit Additive Manufacturing gefertigtes Metallbauteil
© Fraunhofer ILT

futureAM – Next Generation Additive Manufacturing

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has created futureAM to systematically and continuously develop the additive manufacturing (AM) of metallic components. For this purpose, six project partners, all with a wealth of experience in the field of additive manufacturing, have entered into a strategic project partnership with two major goals:

1. Establish a comprehensive cooperation platform for the highly integrated cooperation and use of the decentrally distributed resources of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in the field of AM.

2. Create the technological prerequisites to increase scalability, productivity and quality of AM processes in a way relevant to praxis for the production of tailor-made metal components.

Structure and fields of action of the futureAM lighthouse project.
© Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft e.V., Munich
Structure and fields of action of the futureAM lighthouse project.

To ensure technological leadership, the six institutes of futureAM will systematically develop additive manufacturing in four fields of activity, each coordinated by one institute:

  • Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains
  • Scalable and Robust AM Processes
  • Materials
  • System Technology and Automation

The focus project has set itself ambitious goals within its four fields of activity: for example, novel software for automated AM component identification and optimization, a scalable LPBF plant concept (Laser Powder Bed Fusion) increasing productivity (by a factor > 10), a process and system technology for generating spatially resolved, customized multi-material properties and an autonomous manufacturing cell for the post-treatment of AM components.

The cooperation platform has not only been created through intensive cooperation in and between the individual fields of activity, but in particular through the establishment of a "Virtual Lab". For this purpose, all partners will participate in developing technology demonstrators.

Virtual Lab

In addition to the four fields of activity, which all institutions service with their own R&D capacities, a Virtual Lab is being set up. This lab aims to map the competences and equipment of the institutes involved in a closed and digital manner. Each entity – machine or product – is described and assigned a digital twin, which is the virtual part of a cyber-physical machine or a larger cyber-physical system. On the basis of these digital twins, real systems can be optimized by means of modeling and simulation. This will enhance, for example, error diagnosis, predictive analysis, product and process optimization or long-term quality assurance.

In the future, the system will also provide data for planning new products, which will drastically reduce qualification times. It will increasingly be able to assign products to machines, adapt relevant process parameters in the production process and take product targets, such as quality, and production goals, such as delivery times, into consideration, all autonomously. The role of humans will thus change – away from today's central planning to decision-making and monitoring. Autonomous systems within the virtual laboratory will support people on location with suitable evaluation and monitoring tools. The Virtual Lab, thus, provides complete digital transparency.

Exemplary representation of demonstrators that are created in the common "Virtual Lab".
© Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft e.V., Munich
Exemplary representation of demonstrators that are created in the common Virtual Lab.


In order to demonstrate the performance of the developed technologies in the four fields of activity, the futureAM focus project develops demonstrator components and manufactures them across institutes and platforms. These are geared to the needs of individual industries relevant to AM.

All participating institutes are involved in the data processing as well as producing the demonstrators within a common "Virtual Lab".

As an example, the picture beside shows the production of a steering knuckle as a demonstrator from the automotive industry along the entire process chain. In a first step, the component will be designed or re-designed, for example, to introduce lattice or hollow structures in the component for weight reduction. To this end, the software tool will be developed in the field of activity 1 "Industry 4.0 and Digital Process Chains" at the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technology IAPT; it is used to design AM components. In a second step, the steering knuckle will be produced with the LPBF (Laser Powder Bed Fusion) process; a new scalable plant concept developed at the Fraunhofer ILT from the field of activity 2 "Scalable and Robust AM Processes" will be used. Subsequently, a reinforcing structure made of a second high-strength material will be attached using the LMD (Laser Material Deposition) process at the Fraunhofer IWS – a focal point of field of activity 3 "Materials". The support structures will then be removed automatically and the component post-treated using processes developed under the leadership of the Fraunhofer IWU in field of activity 4 "System Technology and Automation".

Cooperation in the "Virtual Lab".
© Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft e.V., Munich
Cooperation in the Virtual Lab.

To tune the required material and surface properties of additively manufactured components, companies need to post-treat the components. This is where the Fraunhofer IWU comes in. In the futureAM project, the institute's scientists are developing an autonomous production cell in which the components are mechanically post-treated by robots. The basis for this is a versatile, self-configuring machine design that meets the requirements of the process.

The branches addressed by the demonstrators help the futureAM institutes evaluate the developed technologies as well as the associated system technology for different materials, property requirements and series sizes. By combining the newly developed technologies in the individual fields of activity and processing them in the common "Virtual Lab", the institutes can take the targeted goals into account in the best possible manner.