On the Ground in Linares, Spain for the Meltio M600 Launch

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As detailed in a previous post, metal 3D printer manufacturer Meltio launched its latest wire-laser metal deposition (LMD) machine, the Meltio M600, at its headquarters in Linares, Spain. There, I was able to get an on-the-ground look at the machine alongside other attendees.

The launch event was held at the Universidad de Jaén, not far from the Meltio factory. After CEO Ángel Llavero’s brief remarks in the morning, everyone dispersed into groups to learn more about Meltio and its solutions during a variety of Playbooks—small breakout sessions focused on topics like Meltio’s use in education, cladding, machine shops, and service bureaus. I attended the latter two, where we first learned how Meltio’s wire-LMD technology can help solve several pain points in machine shops, including having to turn down jobs for complex parts or difficult to machine materials, and shutting down production CNC machines to complete internal jobs.

Wire is easier to stock and change out, and has the same type of residue as CNC, which is why Meltio’s wire-LMD technology is a great fit for machine shops. It also gives manufacturers the option to add features to existing parts and use dual materials. Moreover, it can help them save on costs and lead times, plus reduce the steps in the current workflow.

As we learned in the Playbook, technical drivers for wire-LMD applications include high-value or difficult-to-machine materials, complex geometries, and parts weighing between 1-50 kg. Examples of these applications include a press brake tool printed on the new M600, which is typically made out of tool steel—one of those materials that’s hard to machine. This part originally cost $11,000 to make, but Meltio did it for $200. Other M600 applications for machine tool shops include a die punch and a connecting rod.

In the other Playbook I attended, we learned that the pain points of service bureaus include powder handling and recycling, a desire to move from short-run to mass manufacturing, and having to spend millions of dollars to open new businesses. The M600 is a gateway to real production, and Meltio’s technology is a good fit for service bureaus for several reasons, including the fact that it costs far less than a powder bed fusion machine, and can be used for more applications as well. Powder also isn’t a consideration, which makes things easier. As we learned, Meltio can be a real commercial opportunity for service bureaus, as it’s “the perfect bridge between 3D printing and traditional manufacturing.”

After my Playbooks, and a quick coffee break, I joined a group to go visit the Meltio office and factory, located next door to its exclusive sales partner Sicnova, which distributes the company’s technology in the Iberian Peninsula. The office side of the building includes sales, marketing, engineering R&D, software, training, applications, purchasing and quality control, and more. There were also a few meeting rooms, laboratories for material testing, and four Robot Cells, though only three were up and running at the time. The standard model of the Robot Cell, which is designed for use in controlled industrial environments, combines a Meltio Engine DED head with an ABB or KUKA robotic arm.

We had to sign an NDA before entering the factory, and so weren’t allowed to take many pictures inside. In addition to assembly lines for the M450 and M600 printers, the factory floor also had a prototyping space, lots of parts for testing purposes, a lab for assembling the optics for Meltio’s printers, an electronic manufacturing and assembly area for PCBs, a printer testing room, and a warehouse. Several other machining systems were onsite as well, including a wire-cutting EDM machine from GF Machining Solutions and an L 1600 Vertical Machining Centre, powered by Meltio, from Lagun Machinery. As for post-processing needs, Meltio and Sicnova share a space for this in another nearby building.

Something I really appreciated about Meltio’s launch event was a private press conference with Lukas Hoppe, R&D Director at Meltio, and the assembled journalists the morning after the official launch. It was a calm, quiet environment, without a lot of other people around, and gave us the opportunity to gain clarity on a few key points. We also got to take a closer look at the printer, and Hoppe was right there with us to answer any questions.

He told us that Meltio began work on the printhead for the M600 three years ago, and started developing the printer itself about two years ago.

“It took us a year to get to a working prototype,”  he said. “The first product in 2019 was the M450, but there’s never been a big change in our technology, and there are only so many things to change on an existing platform before you start running out of space. We wanted to milk the platform in terms of what we could learn from it, but then we plateaued, and anything we could change wouldn’t have a big impact on the customer.”

Lukas Hoppe, R&D Director at Meltio

We learned that while the blue lasers are definitely a great improvement, and are better for most materials, the lack of fibers in the deposition head is actually more important for printing. We also wondered how it worked with the metal melting aspect of the printer if the power goes out and then comes back on again as advertised. Hoppe explained that since the M600 prints near net shapes, it’s not a big concern to put hot metal over the material that’s already been printed; it just tapers out a little.

The M600 can store four materials at one time, and it’s apparently very easy to switch between them. Hoppe said it’s similar to multicolor click pens—when you press down on the top of the pen to select your next color, the current color is automatically withdrawn, and the other color comes down. With the M600, the wire is cut and pulled back through the nozzle, and the next wire you want comes out.

Meltio makes sure to give customers material datasheets, a guide, and a range of heat treatments, so those who aren’t material experts have an easier time. Hoppe said you pretty much need to be an expert in materials if you’re making aerospace parts, but that it’s simpler when making tooling parts.

“Generally if you use the parameters we supply, you’ll have an easier time,” he said.

But, the M600 is a “totally open machine,” so if you want to use other parameters, you’re more than welcome to do so.

The M600 has a panel at the bottom that slides out into step, so you have an easier time seeing inside the top of the printer if you’re short like me. Hoppe also showed us how easily everything moves and can be taken apart inside the printer for maintenance purposes, which gives it great retrofitting options.

Overall, it was a really great event. Based on everything I learned, the M600 really does seem to be an excellent choice for machine shops. It definitely won’t work for mass production, but it’s not meant to. It will be available for purchase this June, and comes in a variety of configurations, including Research and Demo, which come with M600 hotwire and dual wire, and the wire drum connection. The Industrial configuration includes hotwire, quadruple wire, wire drum connection, and zero point clamping. You can look at more of my pictures from the event below:

 

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