In the previous installment in our series on the use of 3D printing in the industrial goods sector, we discussed some general trends, as well as the key manufacturers of directed energy deposition (DED) systems that will continue to play a role in the industry. In this section, we’ll look at the other technologies, with particular focus on metal 3D printing.
Metal Powder Bed Fusion
Whereas DED is ideal for repairing and augmenting parts, PBF is capable of 3D printing intricate geometries. The ability to fabricate parts with complexity at no additional cost enables the design of parts with improved performance and reduced weight and/or size. It also means that complex assemblies made up of multiple parts joined together can be 3D-printed as single units.
Applications for these abilities require know-how and rigorous design work, meaning that it may take longer for industrial goods companies to adopt the technology, but when they do, it will likely pay off. For the industrial sector, metal PBF can be and is used for 3D printing unique parts for improved performance, as well as fabricating replacement parts, molds, inserts and other tooling.
EOS is considered the market leader in metal PBF and, as such, has an established place in the industrial sector. It has numerous customers internationally that 3D print dies, molds and inserts for use in injection molding, as well as those who fabricate end parts with EOS technology. Similarly, SLM Solutions and Concept Laser (now GE Additive) have a long-standing presence in the industrial sector. Given GE’s massive clout, it’s possible that it will come out on top in terms of metal PBF and other technologies still in-development.
Though 3D Systems technology has long been used for prototyping and toolmaking in the industrial sector, its metal 3D printing technology will become increasingly important for this field as it is further developed. In 2018, 3D Systems partnered with GF Machining Solutions, a maker of post-processing technologies for the tool, mold and die industries. For AM, the company’s Electrical Discharge Machines can be used to remove metal printed parts from their baseplates. Together, 3D Systems and GF are developing a smart factory that would combine the additive technologies of the former with the subtractive technologies of the latter, along with new software, to create a seamless workflow.
The partners then unveiled the co-branded DMP Factory 500, which combines additive and subtractive manufacturing. This system was followed up by the DMP Factory 350 and Flex 350, meant to be integrated into a smart factory environment including GF post-processing technology.
Similarly, Additive Industries partnered with SMS Group (covered in our previous installment) to develop its smart factory solution. The latter company already has a significant stake with industrial manufacturers by providing modernization and repair services.
Renishaw and Trumpf, discussed in previous installments, are also important players in metal PBF for the industrial segment.
Bound Metal Printing
Bound metal printing is a category made up of metal binder jetting and bound metal deposition that produce semi-finished “green parts”. These parts consist of metal powders joined together by a binder and must be sintered in a furnace. The technology is more cost-effective than other metal printing technologies and can be more easily controlled due to the fewer number of variables involved in the printing process. Moreover, parts experience less microstructural degradation and residual stress than PBF and DED parts.
Though the technology has been available for some time from ExOne and Hoganas, it has received renewed interest due to a new metal binder jetting technology from HP, who has partnered with service bureaus GKN and Paramatec (discussed in the previous installment) to 3D print parts for customers before the full-scale release of the MetalJet technology to market.
ExOne is a company that is already experiencing some new exposure from the variety of new metal binder jetting technologies entering the market from the likes of HP and Desktop Metal. Before it began manufacturing binder jetting machines, ExOne was a service provider. In addition to its metal 3D printing, used for tooling and other industrial goods, ExOne’s sand printing serves the general industry sector for its use in casting metal parts.
To improve an 11-piece, lasercut welded assembly, Amerequip relied on ExOne’s sand 3D printing technology. Sand cores were 3D printed to manufacture a ductile iron casting for the assembly’s swing gate, which resulted in a fast turnaround and a one-kilogram weight reduction.
Desktop Metal and Markforged both make bound metal deposition (BMD) systems that are meant for metal prototyping and tooling. The systems use some variety of metal powder bound together into an easy-to-handle feedstock. BMD has already found widespread use for the aforementioned purposes in industrial applications including jigs; fixtures; dies, molds, and cutting tools with conformal cooling channels; and manifolds with internal channels.
Hybrid Manufacturing, Composites and Polymers
In two separate series, we have covered hybrid manufacturing and 3D printing composites. Every hybrid system maker is closely tied to the industrial sector, to whom it sells its CNC machines and other equipment. Similarly, many of the composites 3D printing companies already on the market—specifically Cincinnati Incorporated, Thermwood and Ingersoll—also produce CNC machines.
As for polymers, Stratasys is the leader in industrial extrusion 3D printing, but new entrants on the market are looking to corner portions of the market for which Stratasys machines are too expensive and desktop 3D printers are not capable. Roboze, 3ntr, 3DGence, INTAMSYS and others have released 3D printers capable of 3D printing high performance plastics, such as PEEK, PEKK and ULTEM.
Altogether, the printers from these companies will continue to be used for prototyping and tooling, as well as some end parts. The same is true of manufacturers of polymer PBF machines, like HP and EOS, and vat polymerization machines, like 3D Systems, EnvisionTEC, Formlabs and others.
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