Fabrisonic Hybrid Metal 3D Printing
Andrew Wheeler posted on May 04, 2015 |

Fabrisonic, a company based in Columbus Ohio, has a different approach to metal 3-D printing.  When most people think of metal AM, they think of powder bed metal printing, a process where layers of powdered metal are laser-sintered one at a time until an object is formed.  Fabrisonic's approach uses thin films of metal foil, which it prints layer by layer, then adds rapid vibration and a little subtractive machining for good measure. 

The SonicLayer 7200, Fabrisonic's largest machine
The SonicLayer 7200, Fabrisonic's largest machine

After spending two years perfecting its technology, Fabrisonic was formed in 2011 with funding from Ohio's Third Frontier fund. 

“We're doing metal 3-D printing,” said company founder and CEO Mark Norfolk. 

Vibrations are sent through the layers at 20,000 per second, which is enough to push oxygen molecules off of the metal.  This allows the metal molecules to touch.  And when they touch they bond.

“Metals inherently like to stick to other metals,” according company founder and CEO Mark Norfolk.  “If you have two pieces of completely clean metal in outer space and you slap them together with your hands, you will form a solid state bond. It will be just like solid metal.” 

Fabrisonic can build any internal compartments or passageways that required by a specific design.  They also claim to be able to embed in that same piece of carbon fiber, ceramic, wiring — even integrated circuits and fiber optic strands of glass into a metal component.  The initial process allows Fabrisonic to print near net shape, and then they use CNC machines to cross the finish line to the final shape.  So it's both an additive and subtractive manufacturing process.

Norfolk hasn't found a metal he can't use in his new process (with the exception of lead) - he can even can weld together metals with very different properties such as steel and aluminum.  The process doesn't melt or heat up the materials substantially enough to affect  metallurgy, conductivity or magnetic properties. 

Copper and Aluminum, printed together
Copper and Aluminum, printed together

The company is working from a 15,000 square foot facility on Ohio State University's campus, where it's been running it's three patented 3-D printing cells at all hours, making parts for aerospace companies, defense contractors and other high-tech manufacturing industries. 

The thin strips of metal it uses come from U.S. Foils Inc. in Willoughby, the 3-D printing machines are made by Cuyahoga Falls-based Ultra Tech Machinery

Robert Hagarty, president of Ultra Tech, said that company's president, explained that each machine made for Fabrisonic has a six-foot by six-foot bed and is based on an existing CNC machining cell.  The parts are made by a combination of a device that puts one cut strip of foil on top of another, with a traditional CNC machine head that cuts to fine tolerances as needed. 

“They're (Fabrisonic) an average customer for us saleswise, but the growth potential with them is very high,” Hagarty said. 

Norfolk said Fabrisonic broke even for the first time in 2014, and he and they company are very focused on growth with an eventual goal of ordering and operating between 40 and 50 machines.  Anticipating growth, the company has begun looking for a new space to house their manufacturing facility. 

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