One of the great things about conferences like last week’s RAPID 2016 is the new discoveries, the companies and products that are just emerging but that you can sense are likely to turn into something big. One company that left such an impression on me last week was Formalloy, a California-based metal 3D printing company that launched only this January but has already delivered a 3D printer that stands out among the crowds of other metal printers in more than one way.
I briefly touched on Formalloy and their technology last week, but in the mad rush of events that was RAPID, I didn’t get a chance to devote any time to more comprehensive looks at any particular company, product, or event – though many were more than deserving. One company that I thought warranted a closer look was Formalloy, not only because of their impressive mixed-metal laser metal deposition (LMD) printer but because of the obvious energy they have about them. I could feel that energy right away when I stepped into Formalloy’s booth and was greeted by Melanie Lang, Director of Business Development, who was clearly excited to talk about the company and what it’s been doing in the less than half year it’s been in business.
According to Lang, while Formalloy has only officially been in business since January, the plans for the company’s formation have been in the works for the last six years. Lang, whose background is in the defense industry, explained that she and her colleagues started as hobbyists, and while they enjoyed small-scale plastic printing, they agreed that it didn’t offer many real-world applications, so they began brainstorming ways to take what began as a hobby to the next level. The obvious answer? Metal printing.
If you follow the 3D printing industry even peripherally, I don’t need to tell you that metal 3D printing is what’s on everyone’s mind these days, so Formalloy chose wisely when they decided to move into the field. There’s always a downside to just about everything, though, and the downside to getting into metal printing is that suddenly everyone’s doing it. Less than a year ago, it was just starting to become more accessible and was beginning to generate a buzz of excitement, and then it exploded. Now, just about everyone is developing metal printing technology, so it’s a lot harder to stand out in the field than it was even a few months ago.
Formalloy seems to recognize that, however, and their flagship printer is far from just another metal printer blending into the woodwork (metalwork?). The A222, which has a 200 x 200 x 200 mm build volume, utilizes laser metal deposition (LMD) technology, which isn’t new, but it’s still a less-used one compared to the more common SLA, for instance. The advantages are many, and Lang listed several of them for me as she showed me the A222 churning away at the back of the booth. In brief, LMD uses a coaxial nozzle to blow powder onto a substrate in layers that are then melted with a laser. Unlike other forms of metal printing, LMD can be used to repair, modify or add on to existing parts, 3D printed or not. It can even be used to machine parts away, Lang said, a process unique to LMD.
Jeff Riemann, president and founder of Formalloy, designed and built the A222 in a mere six months. Riemann has a long history in the CNC industry, but he knows 3D printing well, which is apparent through both the machine he built and his energetic enthusiasm, which was palpable as he chatted away with the numerous potential customers and interested parties who stopped by the booth in a consistent flow of people. The freshly-unveiled A222 had already been drawing a great deal of interest in its first days of existence, Lang told me, largely from industrial parts manufacturers and the repair industry, who are drawn by the machine’s versatile capabilities to create, repair, coat, customize, modify, post-process and more.
A large aspect of the A222’s appeal is its ability to mix metals, still a rarity in the industry. Capable of operating with either 3 or 5 axes, the A222 is currently printing with titanium, Inconel, and stainless steel either individually or in any combination during the same print job. Recently, Formalloy also began experimenting with magnetic materials, and Lang said that as far as she knows, the machine is the only one on the market with the ability to combine metals and magnets in one print.
That’s not the only thing unique to Formalloy, though. The A222 – and presumably any future printers the company develops – utilizes a completely open powder system, which is unheard of in the metal printing industry. Proprietary materials are accepted as the norm in metal printing, but users of the A222 can purchase powders from anywhere – or even develop their own for use with the system.
The A222 is currently available for purchase at a reasonable price point – contact Formalloy for more details. Lang told me that the company is also willing to create and supply parts to organizations for material testing; Formalloy will be publicizing this service more in the future, but they’ve already signed an agreement with the University of California San Diego‘s Department of NanoEngineering Materials Research Center for metals analysis.
I’m excited to see this company grow. They clearly have the knowledge, creativity and seemingly limitless energy needed to stand out in a growing and increasingly crowded industry, and if their first contribution to the market is any indication, we can expect to see exciting things from them in the future. Discuss your thoughts further in the Formalloy A222 Metal 3D Printer forum over at 3DPB.com.
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