Just as Virginia Tech was awarded a U.S. Department of Defense grant for the purchase of an additive friction stir deposition (AFSD) system, the only commercial provider of AFSD equipment, MELD Manufacturing, has announced a strong indicator of growth. The Virginia, USA-based startup has spun out a new business dedicated to AFSD metal 3D printing services.
The new company, MELD PrintWorks Corporation, will offer AFSD for the 3D printing of forgings, castings, and other metal parts. Because AFSD is a cold-welding process, it overcomes many of the disadvantages associated with other metal 3D printing techniques. This includes limits in scale, speed, post-processing, and material.
Because there is no contained build chamber, the current equipment is capable of producing massive parts. The US Army’s Rock Island Arsenal is on track to have the “world’s largest” metal 3D printer, thanks to MELD’s technology, this spring. The lack of sintering or melting means that commercially available, solid-state feedstocks can be used without issues related to porosity or cracking. Additionally, there’s no need for hot isostatic pressing to achieve ultimate part strength. This is all done at a rate of 10 times the speed of other metal 3D printing processes.
While MELD previously offered 3D printing as a service, it will now do so as a separate business. CEO Nanci Hardwick explained that the decision to spin off the service business was made due to demand:
“Our customers need greater access to printed parts. Our MELD machine customers and prospects have universally stated a need to offer our technology as a service. We have listened and responded by providing a dedicated resource in the MELD PrintWorks Corporation. Given the constraints many industries are experiencing in sourcing forgings, castings, and raw materials in general, we are excited to support this transition of MELD printing technology to a production environment.”
MELD Manufacturing Corporation, meanwhile, will focus on manufacturing the machines themselves, while also providing training and certification. Management and operating teams will be separate, as will the service bureau’s manufacturing. In the case of Tim Bell, who was previously the prominent Additive Manufacturing Business Manager at Siemens, he will be Chief Operating Officer at MELD Manufacturing Corporation.
“We spun out this company to provide a source for our many customers eager to have more access to MELD-printed parts. We feel it important to have a hard separation between MELD Manufacturing and MELD Printworks so that the goals and focus of each company can be prioritized,” Hardwick said.
The clear distinction between the two firms may open up interesting possibilities in the future. For instance, as MELD continues expanding the technology itself, one could imagine a service bureau roll-up, such as ADDMAN Group, taking on PrintWorks. This would enable the company to access a chunk of the large-format 3D printing sector, which SmarTech Analysis estimates to be worth $739 million by 2026, according to its “DED and Large-Format Additive Manufacturing Markets: 2021-2030” reports.
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