ExOne M-Flex Production Metal 3D Printer
Kyle Maxey posted on May 20, 2014 |

Professional 3D printer for metals and for sand casting medium sized parts

Designed primarily as a metal 3D printer, ExOne’s M-Flex system is the company’s most comprehensive solution for finished product additive manufacturing. The M-Flex can print in stainless steel, bronze and tungsten and can also produce parts in silica and ceramic sand as well as glass.

 Unlike many other metal 3D Printers, the M-Flex can rapidly print durable end-use parts. It can print component layers in as little as 30 seconds, which represents a ten-fold increase in speed over previous ExOne systems, making the M-Flex one of the fastest metal additive manufacturing machines. 

The M-Flex uses ExOne’s Digital Part Materialization (DPM) process that uses a powdered material, a chemical binder and a digital file to create the end use part. The M-Flex can also produce sand molds that can be cast into metals that are not currently supported by the M-Flex system. 

Complementing it’s core printing technology, ExOne also boasts that the M-Flex can come equipped with it’s own recycling equipment, curing oven and furnace, a one-touch user interface and a comprehensive multimedia training program. If more than one of any component is needed they can simply be added to the system. Given that variability, the price of an M-Flex system can range upwards from the base model price of $450,000. 

Although ExOne is a smaller player in the world of AM when compared to 3D Systems and Stratasys, it is growing rapidly in terms of revenues and in terms of materials. In the first half of 2014 the company has announced its systems can now process Inconel alloys, broadening the applications their printers can meet. As more materials are added, more companies may choose to invest in an ExOne M-Flex to leverage metal AM for short run production. 

An application for the M-FLEX – Deep Hole Drilling Equipment:

 

Deep hole drilling is fraught with pressure. Excavating soil, bedrock and other hard materials requires precisely design tools. What’s more, drilling tools have to be built to last. For every tool that’s broken, precious time is lost to recover and replace worn out or shattered equipment.

Ulterra is a drilling technology company that has rethought how they design their rotors and stators used in down hole applications. Previously, Ulterra machined their rotors using 4145 steel. While those rotors worked, the company wanted to improve the lifetime of their components to reduce system downtime. 

Ulterra turned to additive manufacturing, employing an M-Flex machine to build a new generation of rotors from an S4 stainless/bronze alloy. After printing and testing a short run of rotors, Ulterra realized that their new parts would last significantly longer than those produced using traditional manufacturing methods. In addition to producing a more reliable product, Ulterra’s engineers also realized a substantial cost savings. According to in-house analysis, milling each rotor resulted in components that cost between $400 and $500. Once Ulterra introduced the M-Flex to their production scheme the cost of each rotor plummeted to between $75-$150.

By leveraging metal AM, Ulterra’s engineers not only reducing the cost of their components, they also improved their lifetime.

 

Quick Facts

Manufacturer: ExOne

Model: M-Flex

Material: Glass, Bronze, Stainless Steel & Tungsten, Silica Sand, Ceramic Sand

Color: Based on Material

Build Envelope Options: 400 x 250 x 250 mm (15.7 x 9.8 x 9.8 in.)

Layer Thickness: Variable with minimum of 0.100mm

Build Speed : 30-60 seconds/layer

Axis Resolution: X/Y 0.0635mm, Z 0.100mm (set by layer thickness)

Printer Dimensions: 1675 x 1400 x 1855 mm (66 x 55 x 73 in.)

Recommended Uses: End use manufacturing; Prototyping durable goods

Primary Industries: Automotive, Aerospace, Oil & Gas; Heavy Industry

Machine Price: $450,000 base price plus additional components

 

Who Should Use the M-Flex:
With its relatively quick print speed and multi material function the M-Flex is an excellent machine for creating short run, end use components and prototypes. The M-Flex also expands its application portfolio by including the ability to create sand mold which can be cast in any standard material or exotic alloy.

 

Why Wouldn't You Use the M-Flex:
Unlike additive systems that use plastics as their material, metal 3D printers require rigorous safety standards. For those looking to make quick prototypes that demonstrate a products look, feel and general function the M-Flex’s metal printing capabilities might produce parts with more durability than required. The price tag will also stand in the way of smaller shops or users with lower value applications.

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