AMS Spring 2023

ColdMetalFusion Could Disrupt Metal 3D Printing Market – AMF Focus

Inkbit

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One of the most surprising developments of 2022 was the launch of the ColdMetalFusion (CMF) Alliance, which seeks to take on metal binder jetting in a unique way using a process workflow and 3D printing feedstock developed by AM Ventures startup Headmade Materials. Rather than introduce a completely new printing technology to the marketplace, Headmade is introducing a new material for existing selective laser sintering (SLS) machines and combining it with existing workflows for metal injection molding (MIM). The potential for CMF is tremendous and could very much up-end the binder jetting market.

To learn more about the this unique technology, we spoke to Levent Akbas, Chief Commercial Officer at Headmade Materials. Akbas was able to discuss CMF, the Alliance, and their implications for 3D printing as a whole.

The Roots of CMF

Headmade Materials was established by Christian Fischer and Christian Staudigel who were developing the process chain while at the SKZ Institute. There, the duo sought to combine their expertise in polymers with AM and sintering while solely relying on existing standards in metal manufacturing. This resulted in the process chain dubbed “ColdMetalFusion.”

Image from “Cold Metal Fusion / Metal SLS Technology,” illustrating the CMF process.

Key to the process was a proprietary binder material technology for metal powder that makes it possible to 3D print green parts with conventional SLS equipment. The printed parts are then depowdered, as with SLS, and debound and sintered using techniques similar to MIM.

“The big difference between Headmade Materials and the rest of the sinter-based ecosystems is we are using a unique feedstock based on our binder technology. Our feedstock is processable on standard laser sintering machines and even melts at a lower temperature than regular SLS thermoplastic materials. That makes it much more stable to print than PA 12 and allows for 100% powder reuse,” Akbas said.

The CMF Alliance

The CMF Alliance itself is an interesting body because it is made up of leaders from their respective industries, covering every aspect of the CMF process chain. This includes:

Additive manufacturing:

Depowdering and Post-processing:

Sintering:

CMF Part Production:

In the consortium are leading powder metallurgy company Miba and MIM companies like MIMplus and Element22, as well the Japanese gas leader Nippon Gases. Also the line up of sintering equipment providers is impressive. For example, LÖMI has been developing debinding and solvent recycling systems since 1991, Carbolite Gero has been manufacturing furnaces for 20 years longer than that. These companies are grouped alongside established AM leaders—like AM Solutions, Farsoon, and Sintratec—as well as end industrial users in the medical, automotive and other fields.

Together, the partners released two interesting products, the JobShop and LabSystem, meant to bring CMF to the market. While the JobShop relies on a Farsoon HT252P SLS machine, the LabSystem revolves around Sintratec’s S2 small-scale SLS system. As end-to-end packages, they include debinding stations produced by LÖMI, and sintering furnaces made by Carbolite Gero.

The JobShop and LabSystem packages from the CMF Alliance. Image courtesy of the CMF Alliance.

This is interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that an industry consortium is releasing bundled products. However, it may just take a group of established firms collaborating to make inroads against the much-hyped metal binder jetting segment. There, Desktop Metal, HP, Markforged, and GE have attracted large name brand customers, including Volkswagen and Ford, with many hoping that metal binder jet introduces true serial production metal AM. It’s a small sector where giant corporations like HP and GE have the weight to claim a lot of territory, while exciting startups such as Desktop and Markforged already have the market share.

By joining forces, the members of the CMF Alliance have the potential to compete against that segment, particularly since it has some important advantages over binder jetting: CMF could potentially be less expensive and deployed on a large installed base that enable SLS users to compete with metal binder jetting quickly and easily.

The Advantages of CMF

All combined, CMF opens up a number of advantages over both metal 3D printing and MIM, and even polymer SLS. According to Akbas, what speaks most for ColdMetalFusion is that it is the only technology scalable from labscale to high serial production on proven and robust machines.

Another benefit is the ability to have a 100 percent powder recycling rate, due to the low operating temperature, which obviously improves costs and reduces waste. Additionally, the overall process is more stable, as heat does not have as much of an impact on the printing environment. Akbas described Headmade’s binder material as “even easier to print than PA12, the polymer traditionally used in SLS.”

The resulting “green parts” are much more durable than those that come out of most metal binder jet systems. This means that components can be much larger, a limit of metal binder jet on the whole, and can be put through more significant post-processing, such as water blasting.

Utilis AG worked with ColdMetalFusion Production Hub MIMplus Technologies and Headmade Materials to create a cutting tool holder multidec-cut, gold-line with unique interior 3D coolant channel. Made using Headmade’s M2 tool steel, the design increases cutting tool performance by up to 185%. Image courtesy of Headmade Materials.

Additionally, shrinkage during sintering is said to be highly uniform and predictable. At about 12 percent for titanium and 14 to 15 percent for steels, the shrinkage rate is actually lower than most sinter-based AM processes. Therefore, compensating for it is as simple as increasing the size of the CAD file by that percentage.

Other benefits include:

  • Low-to-zero scrap rate
  • Very low solvent consumption, thanks to solvent recycling runs.
  • High accuracy, said to be 0.2mm tolerance on average
  • Low cost entry point with easy scalability to larger machines.

In fact, CETIM’s Institut Carnot, funded by the French government to develop the country’s industrial sector, conducted a study to examine the mechanical properties of CMF parts and found them to exhibit even better elongation than the same parts made with MIM or metal binder jet.

CMF Moving Forward

Using the well-understood and -established technology of SLS, provides users with an existing standard from which to grow. By offering a LabSystem and JobShop, customers have the ability to begin with a smaller platform and then move into production. According to Akbas, CMF has the potential to almost immediately allow users to scale up to millions of parts.

“We want to set an industry standard here by going through these well established technologies and asking how you print, how you remove parts, how you clean them, and what you expect in the next steps. So, all of the machines already act as turnkey solutions with a standard way of using them.. But it’s also an open system, where you can customize and develop your own process variations. So, you just have a standard and then you can deviate from that to make it easy for people—and more reliable. This is the way to enable everyone to grow into industrial manufacturing thanks to easy entrance points. We are actually already looking at cases where customers are directly looking at production in the area of millions of parts.”

For all of these reasons, CMF is a potentially very disruptive technology. Hence the reason that AM Ventures invested in Headmade Materials. AM Ventures associate Adrian Maier-Ring told 3DPrint.com, “We are excited about the wide range of applications that Headmade’s Cold Metal Fusion technology enables. Christian Fischer, Christian Staudigel and their team have built a strong technology portfolio and achieved great customer traction in the past few years. We are more than happy to have become part of their journey.”

2023 will likely have some surprises in store, as it relates to CMF, but we will have to wait and see just how large that impact will be. The potential is certainly there, but we’re still at an early stage in the technology’s market entry.

AM Ventures is the Networking Sponsor for the Bavarian Beer & Pretzels Networking Reception at the Additive Manufacturing Strategies business summit on February 7-9, 2023.

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