ULT AG in Löbau specializes in extraction, filtration, and air drying technology. Alexander Jakschik is chairman of the board for marketing and finances. In this interview, he outlines AM process chains in 2030, and the often underestimated role of air treatment in them.
Could you please provide us with a short introduction to ULT AG?
Alexander Jakschik: Sure. In 1994, my father founded the company literally in his garage, in order to develop special solutions in the area of exhaust air and filtration technology. Soon, he developed and built his own machines, convincing more and more customers, and he began to drive personnel growth. Today, we are a group of companies with 140 employees, about one fifth of them engineers. We develop, build, and assemble system solutions for air treatment. These solutions are based on three pillars: gas purification, extraction and filtration technology, as well as adsorption dryer technology. Additive manufacturing is one of the growth drivers.
Which part of the value chain of additive manufacturing does ULT cover?
Jakschik: All three pillars are important to AM processes. In preparation, our extraction, filtration, and dryer technology is in demand. In construction processes, the technology purifies the circulated inert gases nitrogen and argon. And in post-processing, air needs to be treated in the sense of work safety and product quality. Our extraction and filtration solutions remove any airborne pollutants resulting out of laser and soldering processes. Often, these are particles in the nanometer range. With a drop height of one meter, they would continue to float up to thirteen days if left without extraction. It is important to extract them at the source so they will not get a chance to disseminate and become a danger to both employees and product quality. We offer enabler technology for high process and product quality: without a continuous purification of the inert gases, laser melting could not work as a stable process. Without extraction and filtration, work safety cannot be guaranteed. And without drying, expensive powders would clump. Depending on preferences, we offer our systems as a single unit or develop and assemble solutions for the complete hall.
Do the various additive plastics and metal technologies all impose different requirements for extraction, filtration, and air drying technology?
Jakschik: Our motto is: Extraction. Filtration. Persistence. Persistence also means that we look targetedly for research cooperation so as to approach the markets of the future. This began in the laser industry, then it continued with battery production, and since 2000, we’ve been doing research in the AM sector. Here, we always tailor our solutions to individual processes and the material used. To do that, we cooperate with our customers and continue doing so until the process works in a stable manner. This is not at all trivial, since we need to pay attention to many parameters. It begins with the system’s dimensions, continues with the respective alloys or plastics, and stretches up to filter disposal. It is important to take great care when gathering the particles. Here, individual advice is best, as this will decide on how efficient air treatment is going to be. I count this as part of our core knowhow which we apply in three fields of AM: in technologies with adhesive agents and sand as well as in the additive processing of plastics, where we rid the air of particles and odorous substances during thermal treatment. In the metal sector, where our solutions support selective laser melting, laser surface cladding, and cold welding. And of course also in the broad field of post-processing.
Are your products modularized, with the integration into manufacturing chains in mind?
Jakschik: As much as possible. We have a construction kit with components out of which we develop individualized solutions – and deliver them to system manufacturers as complete modules.
What would change for suppliers of air technology if additive processes became fully automated, including post-processing?
Jakschik: From our perspective, the process chain would remain comparable, whether the work is automated or done with manual labor. Dust and pollutants will always occur. These need to be extracted and filtered out. However, electronic connection and data communication will change for sure. With this in mind, we have developed a platform, the filter-remote-control-system (FiRe CS™), in order to gather data – and to facilitate conveying these to a higher-level system controlling process quality, and facilitate readjustments in case of parameter deviation
How do you imagine a typical AM process chain of 2030?
Jakschik: Based on comprehensive, sensory surveillance, processes will self-control. Due to being connected to an ERP system, consumable material will be reordered fully automatedly, and, when necessary, the service will be informed. All along the process chain, there are diverse tasks for our systems which we need to fit seamlessly into manufacturing and data processes. All of this will happen in a democratized manufacturing world with decentralized AM manufacturing centers. Considering the complexity of air treatment alone, these centers will at first probably be limited to a few AM technologies with a limited choice of materials.
You are contributing to the board of the Additive Manufacturing Association within VDMA. Are there any specific topics or goals you wish to promote?
Jakschik: System manufacturers and users are strongly represented in the board. I would like to introduce the perspective of components and periphery manufacturers as well – and to shift perception towards concerns of air treatment every now and then. The suppliers’ perspective should also be considered when designing the whole process. Personally, when it comes to topics, I am interested in the process chain and logistics. Here in the Association, we can drive framework conditions, and we would all profit from it. If we approach it the right way, additive manufacturing will strengthen German and European mechanical engineering.
ULT was founded in 1994 by Dr. Christian Jakschik, an engineer specialized in extraction and filter technology with decades of experience. Today his sons, also air handling specialists, manage the company. ULT works on and offers solutions for tasks which are constantly changing due to the permanent further development of process technology.
The company has been located in Löbau in Saxony since 2000. Here it is growing continuously and is now in the fifth stage of expansion. ULT is certified according to ISO 9001:2015. Dr. Christian Jakschik, Dr. Stefan Jakschik and Alexander Jakschik were named Saxony's Entrepreneur of the Year 2016.