SLM Solutions announced that it’s working on a 12-laser powder bed fusion system. Velo3D announced that it is working on a eight-laser system with a 600mm x 550 mm build volume. 3D Systems is also working on a nine-laser system with a build volume of 1m X 1m X 600mm. Now, it is Additive Industries‘ turn, and they’re working on a 10-laser 600 x 600mm X 1000mm printer, also all with 1kw lasers. The MetalFAB-600 is expected to have a deposition rate up to 1000cc/hour and they aim to launch it around the end of 2021. We’re coming up to Christmas 2020 and it seems like Christmas 2021 will be the big box opening of many new machines.
The MetalFAB-600 is meant to be modular so that it “allows even further expansion of the build volume and productivity in the future.”
“The MetalFAB-600 is designed to achieve the lowest cost per part, targeting traditional casting and machining industry,” the company stated. “In view of the importance of this project, and other projects on the development roadmap of Additive Industries, acting CEO Mark Vaes will reassume his role as CTO and manage the development team of the MetalFAB-600. Vaes combined both roles over the past few months. Jonas Wintermans, co-founder of the company, will step in as acting CEO.”
Getting a full-time CEO and CTO is a great step for the company and will leave them much better placed to forge ahead with the new system. Furthermore, Jonas’ family investment firm Highlands Beheer has put in an extra $33 million into the firm this year.
“Right now it is crucial for Additive Industries to develop and innovate. The new MetalFAB-600 project is very relevant for our customers and therefore important for Additive Industries. A larger build volume opens doors to more applications and more productivity. Larger build jobs also mean a need for higher laser power and maximum robustness, because users want their parts to reach the finish line when printing multiple day jobs. The existing MetalFAB1 (420×420), which will be developed even further in terms of simplification and laser power, excels in building long and heavy jobs up to 150kg parts. Its new sibling, the MetalFAB-600 should build on that knowledge. We have an excellent team in place, led by Mark, and are confident to be able to enrich our industry with this new model, as well as with our current portfolio.”
The focus on large multi-day builds and heavy, 150-kilo parts seems to be an enlightened one. Many firms worldwide up until a few years ago only printed small parts at any volume. Softball-sized components were considered big and 30 by 50-centimeter parts were huge in everyone’s eyes. Now, we have metal powder bed fusion companies openly discussing going after parts that used to be made almost only by directed energy deposition and other technologies.
If such a development were to take place successfully, it would take us all squarely into the arena of making a significant number of critical parts needed for a lot of missile and commercial space projects. It would be a huge leap for our technology if Additive Industries alone or together with Velo3D, 3D Systems, EOS, and SLM Solutions would be able to do this. We’d go from a much-used technology in the commercial space arena to the default technology for rocket engine components and much else besides.
This would be a huge leap really and is akin to every team in the NFL saying, “Same as last season but we’re going to do it blindfolded while riding zebras.” Scaling up a 3D printer is not as easy as it sounds. The materials, architecture, software, and mechanics will change and require a much higher degree of precision and reliability. Complexity will balloon and, as an industry, we risk not having a $1 million machine that works well but a $10 million one with 11 nonworking lasers. By competing on such a leap forward directly, these companies have set themselves up for a huge challenge and some or one may not be able to meet this challenge in a very public way.
The only way that this makes sense is if SpaceX or someone of that size and influence has put out some kind of tender, goal or order that makes this a make or break thing for everyone. Apple, to great effect, has bought out multiple production years of some of its suppliers to gain an advantage. A similar stratagem in 3D printing is untried but could have a huge impact since 3D printer supply is so constrained.
At the same time, as I’ve outlined in the 3D Systems article, adding more lasers is no panacea. Instead, it may lead to lasers having to wait for one another or crisscrossing paths to ill-understood effects. Many lasers in a build will also heat in adjacent areas and parts ill-defined ways. This heating will be variable according to when they pass at what spot sizes and power on what material and what geometry. Mapping, simulating or real-time adjusting all of this data will be extremely difficult.
Having said this, the Additive Industries team has been able to make a very credible industrial offering with relatively little financing in a very short time. Now, the small Dutch firm is throwing down the gauntlet to compete alongside its peers. And we’re wondering, what can we expect tomorrow from GE and EOS?
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