Four Signs Additive Manufacturing for Production Is Already Here
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 29, 2019 |
Developments in industrial 3D printing demonstrate the technology has entered production.

It’s been about five years since the consumer 3D printing bubble burst in 2014. The industry is now officially focused on, well, industry and there have been numerous developments to indicate that additive manufacturing (AM) is becoming well-integrated into the larger $13 trillion manufacturing sector.

Of those developments, we’ve broken down five that demonstrate just how far AM for production has come in just the past few months.

Additive Industries Sells Six Metal 3D Printers

When it first introduced the world to the MetalFAB1 3D printer in 2016, Additive Industries promised to change the way that metal laser powder bed fusion was performed. The system is modular and automated, increasing throughput with additional lasers as well as powder handling, build plate calibration, build plate removal, powder removal, and heat treatment.

MetalFAB1 3D printing systems installed in a manufacturing facility. (Image courtesy of Additive Industries.)
MetalFAB1 3D printing systems installed in a manufacturing facility. (Image courtesy of Additive Industries.)

The company has continually made progress delivering its technology worldwide, getting its first system to China in March 2019. Most recently, Additive Industries sold a whopping total of six MetalFAB1 machines to an undisclosed aerospace firm in California. That is a large number of units for any metal AM manufacturer, but particularly when a single machine has a base price of roughly $1 million.

When the systems are installed by the end of the year, that will bring the unnamed customer’s total to 10 systems. So far, the firm has used its existing four printers to consolidate 700 kilograms of powder in June. At this point, the company has been able to justify its investment in metal powder bed fusion through the manufacturing of parts over 420 mm in diameter by 400 mm in height and weighing up to 180 kg.

Now that Additive Industries has 17 MetalFAB1 machines installed in North America, it can further justify the establishment of its Process & Application Development Center in Southern California. The growth is linked to increased demand from aerospace and aeronautics customers, which the company expects to accelerate even more when its customers disclose their use cases.

VELO3D Ships Largest Order of Sapphire 3D Printers

Similarly, VELO3D has also received the largest order for its own metal powder bed fusion systems, dubbed Sapphire. While Additive Industries has developed an end-to-end system for automating the metal 3D printing process, VELO3D has created a system that has refined the selective laser melting technique so much that Sapphire can 3D print metal parts with no support structures.

Sapphire features a combination of in-process quality control and print simulation, along with tight control over other variables related to the print environment, to repeatedly fabricate parts without support structures or deformation.

Like Additive Industries, VELO3D is not disclosing the identity of its customer, but stated that this purchase will bring the client’s total number of units to nine. One partner that has been disclosed is Boom Supersonic, which is using Sapphire to 3D print parts for its supersonic demonstrator aircraft. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing has also brought Sapphire into its fabrication operations.

Carbon and Specialized 3D Print Bike Seats

Carbon is in the process of fulfilling its goal of bringing polymer AM to the production floor, previously deploying its digital light synthesis (DLS) technology to 3D print Adidas midsoles, Keystone nightguards and Lamborghini fuel caps. Its latest partnership with Specialized brings DLS to bicycle manufacturing.

The two companies aim to improve rider comfort, while maintaining stability, by redesigning the bike seat. Specialized’s S-Works Power Saddle features a hollow lattice geometry made from Carbon’s EPU 41 material, which cause it to rebound quickly from bumps. The structure was designed via pressure mapping techniques from the bike maker. The result is a light, breathable seat that weighs just 189 grams.

Typically, bike saddle development takes about two years for Specialized. The use of DLS reduce this time by half, with the bicycle company still iterating over 70 designs. The design process alone was cut from six months to two by realizing new design iterations in one day.

The price has not yet been disclosed, but the new seat will be available in 2020 in 143 and 155mm widths.

GE Additive Ships First M Line Factory System

While these stories have demonstrated the present state of AM for production, GE Additive is showcasing the potential future of metal 3D printing through the shipment of the first Concept Laser M Line Factory system from its site in Germany to the U.S. The machine is now installed at GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center in Cincinnati.

The GE Additive Concept Laser M Line Factory system, with Material Handling Station on the left and Laser Processing Station on the right. (Image courtesy of GE additive.)
The GE Additive Concept Laser M Line Factory system, with Material Handling Station on the left and Laser Processing Station on the right. (Image courtesy of GE additive.)

Unveiled at the end of 2016, the M Line Factory is the first in the company’s vision for a modular, automated metal 3D printing factory. With a build volume of 500mm x 500mm x up to 400mm, the system features up to four 400W or 1,000W lasers, with part production housed in a unit that is connected but works independently from the setup and dismantling units. The build platform is therefore transferred automatically from each unit to the next through interior tunnels. Powder is then able to move in and out of the print chamber without interrupting the print process.

This modularity makes it possible to setup a print operation, fabricate a part, and recover the part independently, maximizing production efficiency. A separate powder handling system makes it possible to load and unload new materials in parallel to the aforementioned manufacturing processes, as well.

GE Additive ultimately envisions these machines being integrated into a larger “factory of tomorrow,” in which parts are automatically piloted over to a post-processing station run by an industrial robotic arm that performs heat treatment, metrology, milling and sawing.

While this is the first M Line Factory system shipped so far, Turkish aerospace company TUSAŞ Engine Industries, Inc. (TEI) has purchased two M Line Factory machines, along with two M2 cusing systems. These will work alongside TEI’s existing fleet of Arcam electron beam melting printers.

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