Metal 3D printing is gaining momentum, as technology continues to advance for making strong, solid parts with unique geometries for a wide variety of applications, ranging from medical and aerospace to construction, automotive, and even art. However, it is not without its issues, which is why many companies and researchers are constantly hard at work to improve the materials and the processes when it comes to additive manufacturing with metals.
At this year’s RAPID + TCT, which came to a close yesterday in Fort Worth, Texas, metal 3D printing received top billing, with companies releasing new metal 3D printers and software for metal 3D printing. In addition, the top two finalists for the Innovation Auditions at the conference this year were both introducing new metal additive manufacturing innovations.
Each year at RAPID, the Innovation Auditions recognize innovative new services or products exhibited at the conference. Qualified innovators, selected by a panel of industry experts and investors, have the opportunity to share, in five minutes or less, why their innovations could make a difference. Two finalists then present during the morning keynote and the audience selects the winner… and this year, I was lucky enough to be in the room when the final presentations were given.
Innovations were presented from Additive Industries, Eurocoating s.p.a., FibreTuff Medical Biopolymers LLC, LPW Technology, Inc., NanoSteel, Roboze Inc, SPEE3D, and the University of Michigan. Battling for first place this year were Additive Industries and NanoSteel.
Debbie Holton, the Vice President of Events and Industry Strategy for SME, took the RAPID stage first on Wednesday morning, ahead of the third keynote. After announcing a quick poll regarding medical 3D printing, which was the keynote topic that day, Holton introduced the two finalist presenters for the Innovation Award.
“Additive manufacturing is truly changing lives every day,” Holton said.
First up was Harry Kleijnen with Netherlands-based Additive Industries, talking about the Product Removal Module for the company’s customizable MetalFAB1 3D printer. The new 404 x 404 x 400 mm module allows for the integrated removal of 3D printed parts, post-heat treatment, from the build plate, along with resurfacing the build plate without any human operator intervention.
The module has features such as integrated heat treatment, automatic powder removal, and reduced inventory of the build plate; additionally, the automation built right in to the solution eliminates manual labor, as a robot transports the 3D printer’s part collection bin.
“Additive Industries believes that integration in additive manufacturing really expedites productivity,” Kleijnen said.
“We need to bring this reduced cost into the additive manufacturing chain and automate this process,” Kleijnen explained. “That’s why we developed the product.”
The company identified a total of 15 different steps that were previously being completed in order to resurface the plate, and removed 10 of these MetalFAB1 Product Removal Module that weren’t adding any value.
With new sub-modules including trapped powder removal, surface milling with an integrated tool changer, an Atex grade vacuum cleaner, band saw technology product removal, and a separate bin for safe parts transportation, the company was able to integrate all of the steps into just its one module.
Then, Dr. Jonathan Trenkle from NanoSteel, which has been developing steel alloys for 15 years, walked onto the RAPID stage for the company’s finalist presentation on its new 3D Printable Tool Steel for Powder Bed Fusion.
Dr. Trenkle said, “We’re really revolutionizing the tool, die, and mold industry.”
He explained that the challenge is “printable, high-performance tool steels” that are easy to work with – namely due to being crack free and working at room temperature. Last summer, NanoSteel introduced the case-hardening BLDRmetal L-40 steel powder, which has, according to the company, “unique properties and capabilities within the 3D printing space for powder bed fusion.”
The ferrous alloy powder can be 3D printed with powder bed fusion technology at room temperature to achieve components that have no cracks, and, as Dr. Trenkle explained,”excellent as-printed hardness and toughness and compatible with industry standard surface hardening treatments.”L-40 material can be used in multiple applications, like tool and die, due to its excellent physical properties and lack of processing limitations. Dr. Trenkle said that the other values and benefits provided by the material include free parameters for major brands, affordability, and fast innovation – now, tools, dies, and molds can be 3D printed in just hours, as opposed to months.
Dr. Trenkle also explained that the NanoSteel team plans to start looking into cobalt materials next, in terms of health and safety.
The work from NanoSteel, as well as the other organizations participating in this year’s Innovation Auditions, is an exemplary showcase of the innovative spirit striding forward in additive manufacturing. Congratulations to these impressive innovators!
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