New metal 3D printing at RAPID + TCT Stratasys, Digital Metal, MELD Manufacturing and more

Many exhibitors and attendees of
RAPID + TCT 2018
have 3D printed metal in mind when it
comes to show floor innovations.

Laser based processes are undoubtedly the most common in
machines throughout the industry. However, the expense of the
materials used in these machines has given rise to the
popularity of processes that use cheaper, metal injection
molding (MIM) powders as a primary feedstock.

Challenges associated with the high temperatures needed in
laser based processes have also opened up space for alternative
technologies that work at a lower heat.

Today, we round up some of the upcoming and alternative metal
3D printing process on show at RAPID + TCT, Fort Worth.

Meld in place of melt

A subsidiary of Virginia based measurement solutions
provider Aeroprobe,
MELD Manufacturing is a newcomer in additive manufacturing that
officially launched
earlier this month
. MELD’s technology is a solid state
process based on friction stir welding. In place of melting
metal feedstock, metals are melded together by a
combination of pressure and friction.

Nanci Hardwick (right) and the MELD Manufacturing team at RAPID + TCT 2018. Photo by Beau JacksonNanci Hardwick
(right) and the MELD Manufacturing team at RAPID + TCT 2018.
Photo by Beau Jackson

Nanci Hardwick, CEO of MELD and Aeroprobe, told me how, by
removing melting from the additive process, “MELD can do all
the things laser can’t do.” With this proven process, there is
more material freedom that laser additive processes, and it has
a comparatively higher deposition rate.

While it is not ideal for intricate operations, e.g. making
small, highly detailed parts, it is perfect for custom-making
large pieces of metal equipment, or repairing previously
unrepairable components as seen in a range of samples at the
show.

A MELD Manufacturing sample metal 3D printed part. Photo by Beau JacksonA MELD
Manufacturing sample metal 3D printed part. Photo by Beau Jackson

Already, Hardwick says, she is surprised by the ways that
people imagine using the process.

And, above all, the company has one clear vision: “to see our
process used by industry. We want to revolutionize
manufacturing.”

Fabrisonic is another
company exploring the possibility of metal additive without
melting. In place of lasers, Fabrisonic has an ultrasonic
process that vibrates strips of metal at a rate of 20,000 times
per second, per inch.

Fabrisonic metal 3D printed parts. Photo by Beau JacksonFabrisonic metal 3D
printed parts. Photo by Beau Jackson

At RAPID + TCT, Production Engineer Justin Wenning showed me
some of the latest aerospace-grade applications of the
technology. As a proof on concept, Wenning 3D printed a panel
for the Mars 2020 Rover, consolidating multiple parts into one.

Justin Wenning and a Fabrisonic consolidated aerospace component. Photo by Beau JacksonJustin Wenning and
a Fabrisonic consolidated aerospace component. Photo by Beau
Jackson

The technology was initially developed with NASA requirements
in mind, and aerospace remains Fabrisonic’s main industry of
interest. The main barrier at the moment, Winning says, is that
people just haven’t heard of Fabrisonic or ultrasonic additive
manufacturing.

Stratasys metal 3D printer

Stratasys is teasing the release of its
forthcoming metal 3D printer
. At the end of the booth it is
showcasing a cabinet of small metal 3D printed components made
using the new technology.

Metal 3D printed sample by Stratasys. Photo by Beau JacksonMetal 3D printed
samples by Stratasys. Photo by Beau Jackson

As with other lower cost metal 3D printers, the new machine
will be leveraging the economy of metal injection molding (MIM)
powder feedstock. However Phil Reeves, VP of Strategic
Consulting at Stratasys, told me that the system does not take
premixed, coated MIM powders like some others in the field.

It will have a thermal post processing step, but the company
has something further in store for this stage in relation to
the supports. Parts will not need to be cut away from the build
bed after printing.

Metal 3D printed sample by Stratasys. Photo by Beau JacksonMetal 3D printed
sample component by Stratasys. Photo by Beau Jackson

On release, Stratasys’ 3D printer will work with aluminum
grades only – a metal that remains challenging to laser based
processes due to reflectivity. Shorty afterwards though, the
company will expand its 3D printers material portfolio to
include new metal alloys.

The Stratasys metal 3D printer hopes to compete against laser
based machines in this field in two ways: firstly, it will have
a lower cost per part, and secondly, it promises to be 7 – 9
times faster than aluminum printing with a laser.

First look at Digital Metal 

For the first time, Digital
Metal
is showcasing its DM P2500 metal additive
manufacturing machine at RAPID + TCT 2018. The unscaled build
platform of the DM P2500 is 203 x 180 x 69 mm. The scaled build
platform (as parts shrink after printing) is 170 x 150 x 57 mm.

The Digital Metal DM P2500 3D printer. Photo by Beau JacksonThe Digital Metal
DM P2500 3D printer. Photo by Beau Jackson

Digital Metal’s particular strength in metal additive is the
ability to produce complex, highly detailed small parts, the
opposite scale of usual goals in metal AM.

A Digital Metal 3D printed "3D Beauchy" bust. Journalist for scale. Photo by Beau JacksonA Digital Metal 3D
printed “3D Beauchy” bust. Journalist for scale. Photo by Beau
Jackson

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Featured image shows Stratatsys metal 3D printed fan
component. Photo by Beau Jackson

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