After exploring the users of 3D printing in the industrial goods segment, as well as service bureaus that are producing some of those goods, we’ll now be taking a look at the machine suppliers whose equipment is already being used for such purposes or those primed for growth in that field. Obviously, many different additive manufacturing (AM) systems can be used for fabricating parts for industrial applications, so in addition to highlighting a few companies of particular importance, we’ll break down the role of specific technology categories (i.e., PBF, DED, etc.) in the industry.
Before we do that, it will help to describe a couple of trends that will, in part, dictate how some companies will more naturally fall into the general industry segment. Because there are a number of manufacturers who also make CNC and other fabrication equipment, they will likely have existing relationships with industrial users who can learn to make use of AM in their operations.
In general, metals will be more important in the industrial goods space, given the use of 3D printing for making molds and performing repairs, as well as the overall durability required for most industrial applications. However, polymer and composite parts are used for molding, in some cases, and play a role in the fabrication of prototypes, jigs and fixtures.
Directed Energy Deposition
Directed energy deposition (DED) is a process by which a metal wire or blown powder is introduced to an energy source, such as a laser or electron beam, in order to build up a part layer by layer. DED is capable of fabricating a near-net-shape part that must then be finished using subsequent processes, such as machining, to achieve the desired tolerances.
With limited resolution and ability to make intricate structures, the parts made by DED are somewhat similar to those made by conventional processes, but some important exceptions. While this may seem like a weakness to those wowed by the geometrically complex parts made using metal powder bed fusion (PBF), DED is a valuable tool for general industry applications.
Among the benefits of DED include the fabrication of large parts, ability to combine different metals, use of metals difficult or expensive to machine, the potential speed and cost as compared to a given conventional manufacturing process, the ability to augment existing parts via repair, coating or added, 3D-printed features.
For many of these reasons, DED has found and will continue to find a comfortable home among industrial users, particularly for moldmaking. The technology can be used to repair metal molds or new features to existing molds as well as create near-net molds and inserts from scratch that can then be machined to their final shape. It’s also possible to use a less expensive metal for the base of a part, including an existing metal block, and add features using a more expensive metal, perhaps with specific properties valuable to the molding process. This can all be done, in many cases, with greater speed and possibly lower cost than available with conventional technologies.
Lincoln Electric manufactures arc welding products and, after researching the development of wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), began offering its own WAAM technology, often categorized as a form of DED. This large-scale system combines a Panametrics gantry with Lincoln Electric’s 350MP for welding power. The company has since partnered with ORNL specifically for the development of 3D printing of metal tooling.
In 2019, Lincoln acquired Baker Industries, a tooling supplier with metal and polymer AM technologies in-house. Given the company’s proximity to industrial manufacturers, it could become a prominent hardware and services provider for the sector.
Sciaky is another manufacturer of large-scale DED machines that have been used for repair and tooling purposes. Manufacturers of such sizable DED systems could play a role as adoption of AM increases in the industrial goods sector for the construction of large equipment.
Trumpf is an important player in DED for industrial goods, in part because of its history in the early development of DED, but also because of its expertise in lasers and optics. Moreover, since re-entering the market in 2015, the company has expanded its 3D printing offerings to include metal PBF, all of which exist alongside its laser machining equipment.
Optomec is a pioneer in the DED space with established customers in the industrial segment, where its technology is already used for repair purposes. In 2016, it began selling its form of DED as a module that can be attached to existing CNC machines, increasing its likely applicability in the industrial segment.
In the next installment, we will discuss the other relevant technologies, including metal PBF, bound metal printing and polymer and composite 3D printing processes.
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