3D printing leader Stratasys, back in 2014, acquired both Harvest Technologies and Solid Concepts and combined the two with its existing digital manufacturing service business, RedEye, to form a parts-on-demand and additive manufacturing outsourcing business: Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (SDM). RedEye gave the business expertise in the Stratasys FDM technology, and Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies together brought over three decades’ worth of Laser Sintering process knowledge. This was a pretty smart business move, as we know that metal capabilities are only continuing to grow in the additive manufacturing industry.Recently, Bry Ewan, a Metals Product Manager for SDM, had the opportunity to stop by NBC’s Jay Leno’s Garage show and explain to Leno and one of his shop employees how SDM’s Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology could completely bypass the plastic mold method of 3D printing and go straight to metal 3D printing. Obviously Leno loves his cars, and he’s also a fan of 3D printing: back in 2015, he had the chance to take Local Motors’ 3D printed Strati for a quick road test, and also called on 3D Systems to help him repair an EcoJet concept car that he’d built himself. Leno’s Big Dog Garage is home to one of the country’s greatest collections of motorcycles and cars, and you can join him and his team for “unique automotive adventures every week.”
At the beginning of the “Direct Metal Laser Sintering” episode, Leno holds up a part for a vintage white steamcar, and explained that there aren’t many of those cars left, or the parts that go with them. But now, we no longer need to 3D print a plastic mold and send it out to have parts for old cars manufactured: instead, we can go directly to metal 3D printing, and make even higher quality parts than the originals.
“I’ll tell you why this is really important, especially if you’re an old car person,” explained Leno in the episode. “Let’s say you’ve got an old Bonneville, a piece of script that says ‘Bonneville.’ You can’t find those, there aren’t any ’65 Bonnevilles in junk yards anymore. But now, you can either, you can scan one, or you can draw one up yourself, and you can make it in a higher-quality metal than the part metal was made with originally. I mean, there’s no part for any automobile, motorcycle, steam engine, that can’t be reproduced.”
Leno said that instead of trying to find these parts on eBay, or talking to old guys who may still have them in their garage (obviously he is familiar with The History Channel show American Pickers), or even using the old plastic 3D printed mold process, we can bypass all of that and have these hard-to-find parts 3D printed in metal. He asked Ewan to explain how SDM’s process worked, from cost to manufacturing, and Ewan had a handy diagram of one of the DMLS machines with him to help explain things further.
Ewan said that SDM 3D prints directly from a CAD model, using a 400-watt fiber laser to micro-weld the metal powder material. Any heat inside the chamber is residual, from either the laser or the build plate. When Leno asked him about the material, he explained that the one he was demonstrating with was a heat- and corrosion-resistant nickel-chromium superalloy called Inconel 718, but that SDM actually has seven different materials it uses, including titanium-64 and aluminum.
SDM’s DMLS machines offer many benefits, including accuracy, freedom of design, streamlined manufacturing, and a way to machine functional parts quickly. According to the website, the technology can create complex geometries that you can’t get from other metal manufacturing processes, and it also gets rid of time-consuming tooling. The parts are strong and durable, and are also denser than investment casted metal parts. The process offers accuracy and fine feature detail, making it perfect for consolidated aerospace parts, custom medical guides, and tough functional prototypes.
Leno asked Ewan how much the DMLS machines were, and once he heard that one of them could cost up to a million dollars, he laughed and jokingly said maybe he could find that piece of Bonneville script after all. But Ewan then explained that there are seven different SDM locations across the US, with the metals operations located in central Texas, where you can go and pay to have that Bonneville script 3D printed in metal for a fraction of the cost of the printer itself.
There is no minimum order quantity, so if you want to place an order with SDM to have a single part additively manufactured in metal, you can. However, the estimated cost of SDM’s 3D printed parts is roughly $500-$600 per vertical inch, so even if you only need one part for a classic car, the economy scale goes by how much you can actually get to print on the build plate. So it’s much more cost-effective to print, say, six or seven parts, so long as they all fit on the plate.
You can watch the full Jay Leno’s Garage “Direct Metal Laser Sintering” episode below:
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