At Formnext Connect, metal 3D printer manufacturer Additive Industries has announced a partnership with Makino to develop process chains for integrating milling operations into a metal 3D printing workflow. To me, this reflects a change in the vision of the 3D printing startup.
Additive Industries‘ market entry into 3D printing was meteor fast and highly impactful. By combining 3D printing operations that were usually done in separate machines and process steps into their integrated machine, parts could be made at lower costs. By removing conveyancing and many different steps, their machines could also give more reliability and repeatability across the process.
Uniquely, Additive Industries focused on serial production, which gave it an edge. The company soon had prestigious customers, such as Airbus, F1 and space companies. We’re seeing some clouds begin to form at Additive Industries, however, as charismatic co-founder and CEO Daan Kersten left the firm and it was essentially taken mostly private by its biggest shareholder. Now, a formerly crisp vision of scaling for series through Additive Industries machines seems muddled, as well.
The company had a small machine that you could use to qualify materials and experiment with and then a modular large system that one could use to print in a highly automated way. They also had a partnership with SMS Group, a giant company that could build you an entire 3D printing factory replete with gas atomization plant. At the time, this was announced as “Additive Industries and SMS Group Team Up for Industrial Manufacturing Serial Production.” SMS would do the integration, atomization and heat treatment. This, coupled with software and software partnerships, seemed like a crystal clear path forward to industrialization.
Now, however, the firm has partnered with milling machine manufacturer Makino to help “develop integrated process chains anticipating on the upscaling of industrialized Additive Manufacturing” signing a letter of intent to do so. So, rather than this being seen as an integrated ecosystem play or “as one more partner joining us,” it is presented as a separate path to industrialization.
The release goes on to state that:
“Instead of treating additive manufacturing of metal parts and post processing as separate processes, the two companies aim to develop a process chain where their technologies seamlessly work together. Additive Industries and Makino will work on the development and commercialization of hybrid process chains supported by the in-depth process know-how and machine design experience of both companies.”
Neo Eng Chong, CEO and President of Makino Asia, said:
‘Our engineering teams have established capabilities in complex 5-axis machining applications involving adaptive machining, scanning of components and high accuracy machining. We are very pleased to be working with an industry leader such as Additive Industries to accelerate the industrialization of 3D metal printing. The MetalFAB1 is a product designed for scaling and it’s a privilege to work with Additive Industries for the future of industrial metal additive manufacturing.’
Mark Vaes, CTO of Additive Industries, added:
‘Working together with Makino as global-leader in high-end milling machines we will jointly work on total process solutions for high-end and demanding markets. We are very pleased with the strong partnership with Makino, and proud to be working with their industry leading machining solutions.’
Makino is a $1 billion revenue machine tool company that produces—for us—very relevant, milling machines. It is also one of the rather few companies making electrical discharge machining (EDM) systems. EDM is a widely used finishing process for 3D printed metal parts. Smoothness and surface quality is a huge problem and almost all metal 3D printed parts need some form of post-processing. Makino’s milling and grinding is a way to get there. The firm also has EDM sink, EDM wire and EDM Hole Drilling which is a distinct advantage. Coupled with software and application development expertise, as well as a focus on titanium, they seem like an ideal partner.
It would seem to be a similar move to that which 3D Systems undertook a few years ago with a partnership with GF Machining Solutions. The GF partnership gives 3D Systems access to a lot of machining and surface finishing knowledge and prowess. GF is also an EDM leader (those Charmilles machines you see everywhere are theirs). This makes it very clear that the wire EDM industry has a high interest in us and sees our success as relevant for theirs.
With Sodick making wire EDM machines, as well, and having a 3D printing offering, it is almost conspicuous that firms which also offer EDM, like FANUC, don’t have additive manufacturing partners. For other un-partnered 3D printing companies, the list of global EDM firms with deep pockets is not infinite, so there may be a scramble yet for more partnerships. Meanwhile, there are about ten or so 3D printing companies that can coherently print metal, so this may be something to consider as well.
So, on the one hand, this is a good move by Additive Industries. But, I wish it was more coherent. Is Additive Industries essentially going it alone, with some partners of convenience? Or will the firm have overlapping partners for many roles? Or will it be a one-stop-shop where I can go for my 3D printing factory? Or will it build out one single ecosystem with select partners for select roles? Or what exactly?
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