Fully Automated 3D Printing Cell to Be Showcased by Optomec at IMTS

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Optomec, the Albuquerque-based, additive manufacturing (AM) technology company, will be exhibiting a fully automated, AM-centered work cell at next week’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago (September 12-17). Optomec’s partner on the project that will be on display is Acme Manufacturing, a robotic material removal systems manufacturer, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

The work cell resulted from two years of collaborative R&D by the two companies, and is designed for repairing titanium aircraft compressor blades. At IMTS, the work cell will be on display at both the Optomec booth (#433130) and the Acme Manufacturing booth (#237433).

In a press release, the VP of business development at Optomec, Jamie Hanson, commented, “Demanding repair requirements, driven by commercial and DoD [Department of Defense] repair centers, has led Optomec to enhance our DED [directed-energy deposition] capabilities to enable high volume, high-yield repair for compressor blades, an especially challenging objective for titanium parts.” G.A. “Fritz” Carlson III, president & CEO of Acme Manufacturing, added, “By utilizing efficient and repeatable robotic finishing technology, we will be able to enable MRO [maintenance, repair and overhaul] engine repair centers to improve overall component quality and help lower unit costs.”

On the AM side, the work cell relies upon Optomec’s CS 250 5-axis laser platform, itself reliant upon Optomec’s proprietary LENS technology for DED metal applications. Additionally, the platform runs on Optomec’s AutoCLAD software, which the company distributes under its subsidiary brand, Huffman Systems.

On the robotics side, the work cell utilizes Acme’s MRO blade tip repair systems, which can be configured for blade tip grinding, weld blending, and polishing. Moreover, the overall system is integrated via an automated pallet load/unload station, a pallet flipping station whose design is unique to this particular project, and a central robotic material handling system.

Both Acme and Optomec provide solutions for a wide range of different sectors, and the work cell’s underlying model clearly lends itself to a multitude of potential applications. Along these lines, it’s worth noting an interview of Optomec’s CEO & president, David Ramahi, by 3DPrint.com’s Michael Molitch-Hou, published in Forbes this past February. According to that article, there are already over 350 Optomec Aerosol Jet systems, designed for electronics AM, installed in some of the world’s largest corporations.

In the interview, Ramahi claimed that, “Developments in [3D printed semiconductor packaging] are being accelerated by tens of billions of dollars in annual investment for new fab capacity by leading chip manufacturers…It’s become something of an arms race.” Ramahi also argued that this particular scale-up “is critical to realizing the benefits of Moore’s Law at a system level” for the AM sector.

Similarly, one could argue that a work cell of this kind is an indispensable prerequisite that the AM sector will have to fulfill, in order for the sector as a whole to make the successful leap from startup to scale-up. Thus, it’s hard to imagine that a comparable work cell won’t also be somehow transposed onto Optomec’s core electronics printing technology. This type of fully automated modular work cell for smaller items from the consumer goods has already been catching on. It’s safe to assume the growth in its popularity for all AM applications will only continue to accelerate.

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