Cincinnati Inc. Goes Big and Small with 3D Printing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on December 12, 2016 |
After impressing the world with a giant 3D printer, Cincinnati Inc. has released an industrial deskt...

Just two years ago, Cincinnati Inc. (CI) and a fleet of partners stunned the world with the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printer. At the International Manufacturing Trade Show (IMTS) in Chicago, the equipment manufacturer, along with Local Motors and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the body of a vehicle live in less than 48 hours.  After machining and assembly the Strati concept car drove off the showroom floor and out of the building four days later.

While CI continues down the path of large-scale, rapid 3D printing, the firm has taken an interesting side trip into industrial desktop 3D printing, partnering with New Valence Robotics (NVBOTS) to sell the Small Area Additive Manufacturing (SAAM) 3D printer. To learn about how the new machine fits into CI's larger business, spoke to Rick Neff, BAAM sales manager for CI.


The SAAM is, in some ways, a modification of NVBOTS NVPro 3D printer, a fused filament fabrication (FFF) machine that brings a high level of automation to the desktop 3D printer space. Like other FFF systems, the SAAM extrudes melted thermoplastic onto a substrate layer by layer, but it has added features that remove a good deal of manual intervention on the part of an operator.

Because the SAAM is controlled through the cloud using NVCloud software, anyone in an organization can send prints to the print queue. Once a print is complete, the SAAM uses a built-in print removal mechanism to lift the print from the bed and move it into a bin where it can be retrieved. Meanwhile, SAAM can begin a new job, allowing for 24-hour operation.

Rather than have a single engineer manage a farm of 3D printers, manually prepping print files, initiating the printing process and removing jobs when they're complete, the SAAM makes it possible for a single administrator to run the operation from the cloud. The admin's sole task is to approve or reject print jobs as they are loaded into the queue online.

Neff explained, “The SAAM is really built to share. What we mean by built to share is that it can be used by a large number of people, and anyone can upload an STL to the cloud-based software that runs the SAAM. The cloud-based software gives you a few options for programming a build: layer height, print speed and what sort of infill you want to have. Then the system does the programming for you. It will take the program, put it in a queue to run on the SAAM.” He added, “It runs around the clock without the operator really being there, so it can really dramatically improve the productivity of the machine.”

The SAAM may be ideal for prototyping, and could be particularly ideal for iterating designs before going to something as large as the BAAM. “Since the BAAM is pretty much like an FFF machine on steroids, the SAAM is the small version,” Neff said. “If we print things in small scale, we can make decisions about a larger build, such as the type of support structures or the overall geometry of the part. The SAAM can quickly make a small model of what we might build in a larger format and get some validation of the design before we invest a lot of money and material.”

From Manufacturing to Additive Manufacturing

CI was not always in the additive business. Though Neff said that he’d be extremely interested in 3D printing since the early days, it was only more recently that CI began to take an interest in the technology.

Once the company began evaluating how it could enter the industry, Neff paid a visit to ORNL's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, where the government lab, with with technology from Lockheed Martin, had already outfitted repurposed gantry with a plastic extruder. ORNL was looking for a partner to commercialize its large-scale, high-speed 3D printing technology, and it found that partner in CI.

Not only is the BAAM big, but it is fast. The original BAAM machine has a build envelope of 11.7 ft x 5.4 ft x 2.8 ft. With a feed rate of 80 lb/hour, the BAAM is about 1,000 times faster than a typical 3D printer.

Development of the system really went into overdrive when a start-up called Local Motors challenged CI and ORNL to 3D print a car for it at IMTS in 2014. To make it possible to 3D print Local Motors' first 3D-printed car, the Strati, the team had to expand the envelope of the machine and add a Z table that could grow the Z-axis from 18-inches tall to 34-inches.

The Strati concept car from Local Motors, 3D-printed at IMTS 2014 on the Cincinnati BAAM. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The Strati concept car from Local Motors, 3D-printed at IMTS 2014 on the Cincinnati BAAM. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

“It's been fun working with Local Motors because Jay Rogers, the CEO, is the kind of guy who will throw out moonshot challenges for you. His first challenge was to have us help 3D print a car at IMTS in 2014. We were like, ‘That's crazy, but okay!’”

Since then, CI has developed the second version of its BAAM machine, which has an even bigger volume of 20 ft x 7.5 ft x 6 ft. ORNL has been using this second version for about a year and a half to produce some truly exciting work, such as the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy Project, a 3D-printed habitat and vehicle that can pass energy from one to the other in a symbiotic, off-the-grid relationship. ORNL has also used the system with Design Miami to 3D print a large-scale pavilion made from a bioplastic-bamboo composite material.

In addition to the automotive sector, the benefits of the BAAM's speed and size could be particularly appealing to aerospace firms. For instance, with the BAAM, ORNL was able to 3D print a massive trim tool for a wing for Boeing's 777X aircraft. BAAM customers are also using the machine to produce custom fixtures and tools for carbon fiber composite work.

From BAAM to the Future of AM

For CI, it doesn’t end with the BAAM or the SAAM. Neff said that the company is wrapping up a pre-production prototype and expects to deliver a new system in early 2017. Neff also mentioned that, in 2017, Additive Engineering Solutions (AES), a service bureau in Akron, Ohio, will become the first service provider to offer 3D printing with the BAAM. This will be particularly useful because not every firm will want to bring a massive 3D printer in house, but will want to outsource jobs to a third party like AES.

We've already seen what such a big and quick technology can do for a company like Local Motors, which aims to make 3D-printed cars available to consumers for $12,000 to $60,000 starting in 2018. When AES launches its BAAM printing services next year, the number of BAAM users may just begin to take off, both figuratively and literally.

To learn more about the BAAM and the SAAM, head to CI's website. To learn more about NVBOTS, visit its site here.

Recommended For You