Bühler Meincke develops and manufactures machines for biscuit and cookie production worldwide, and their journey with 3D printing started when they needed some special geometries for cookie dough nozzles. Traditional manufacturing methods fell short, and therefore Bühler Meincke investigated the various possibilities. After first experimenting with plastic 3D printing, the company took the leap onward to metal 3D printing, finding the same freedom of design with greater durability – in materials that are approved for food contact. Today, metal 3D printing is used for the series production of several different items, which are manufactured at the Danish Technological Institute.
The first steps with metal 3D printing took place in a demonstration project from MADE – Manufacturing Academy of Denmark in 2017, where Bühler Meincke investigated the possibilities of implementing 3D printed metal items in production. This was done with the help of the Danish Technological Institute that has four metal printers in the Center for Industrial 3D Printing.
The MADE demonstration project focused on the small nozzles, which give the cookies the desired shape when the dough is pressed through. For these nozzles, Bühler Meincke needed a hygienic design with organic shapes, and therefore 3D printing was an obvious match.
Previously, the nozzles were soldered together by several parts, as the shape could not be achieved with milling. It was a complicated and time-consuming job, which at the same time yielded some unwanted joints where bacteria could accumulate. Moreover, Bühler Meincke had only one man employed to carry out this work, so they were extremely dependent on this person. But with 3D printing, it became possible to make the nozzles in one piece with a smooth and easy-to-clean surface, says Kristian Rand Henriksen, Business Manager at the Danish Technological Institute.
Furthermore, the reproducibility of the nozzles is higher with 3D printing, and the production process will be simplified and more person independent. “The nozzles were better than I had ever imagined when we started, and we are at a point where we can already use them in our cookie production processes. And in addition, there are many other items that have the potential to be produced with 3D printing,” said Per Bjerrum, Technology Expert at Bühler Meincke immediately after the demonstration project.
The Danish Technological Institute 3D printed the nozzles in stainless steel 316L and titanium for Bühler Meincke, and the project exceeded all expectations – so much in fact that Bühler Meincke today produces most of their nozzles with 3D printing at the Danish Technological Institute. Another important detail of the 3D printed nozzles is that both stainless steel and titanium are approved food contact materials – something that was a requirement on Bühler Meincke’s part – and the Danish Technological Institute has complete traceability on each printed item throughout production.
“The demonstration project has shown that metal 3D printing is especially interesting for the food industry. It can be companies that manufacture bakery products, ice cream or dairy products, but the technology is also interesting for pharmaceutical companies and for manufacturers of pills and medical equipment,” said Mads Østergaard, section manager and 3D printing expert at the Danish Technological Institute.
In the wake of the MADE demonstration project, Bühler Meincke has moved on with 3D printing in metal. This was driven by increased freedom of design, which means that they can be much freer in their thinking and make numerous shapes that cannot be done with traditional manufacturing.
– Thanks to the freedom of design with 3D printing, we have been able to solve some of the challenges with organic and hygienic design, where we can now get rid of the joints and corners from traditional manufacturing. In addition, the actual production of the nozzles was previously a complex affair, but with 3D printing we just send a STEP file to the Danish Technological Institute, and they manage the production – and then it is suddenly pretty easy for us, says Kennie Larsen, Head of Cookie Feed & Forming at Bühler Meincke.
Subsequently, Bühler Meincke has looked at several items in production that could be optimized with 3D printing. Among other things, Bühler Meincke has started to 3D print a cutter roller, which was previously a tube on which e.g. six cups were welded to cut out the dough. “Now we make the cutter roller directly in 3D printing, and it is actually much better than traditional manufacturing. When you weld, you have a lot of heat and the items deform, but 3D printing has proven to be able to solve these challenges,” said Kennie Larsen, Bühler Meincke.
Moving forward, Bühler Meincke sees great potential in 3D printing. Until now, the focus has been primarily on smaller items – also because there are some limitations on how large items you can print. But there is a desire to be up to date with the technology to be ready to take advantage of the new opportunities as they arise.