After 20 years of iteration on the same basic additive-manufacturing technologies for metal, a new wave of innovation is emerging. Lower-cost, safer processes are replacing the old ways of doing things, offering vastly different material properties through resolution, surface quality and design freedom.
A Los Angeles-based company is working a new 3D metal printing process that could prove popular.
3DEO is a new startup that has developed their own patent-pending 3D metal printing process. Like many 3D metal printing processes, 3DEO starts with metal powder.
However, it’s not the same type of metal powder required by other 3D metal printing processes. Those processes require very fine particles because the resolution of the final object is a function of the particle size: the laser fuses the particles together.
Full Metal Printing
Craig Paullin has a problem.
“About 20% of the inquiries I receive are either for prototype work or for low volume orders,” he says.
As the owner and CEO of PSM Industries—a metal fabrication company out of LA specializing in metal injection molding (MIM), sintered metal, and powdered metal technologies—these requests are troubling.
There are hundreds of methods to make metal parts. The list of technologies and techniques can be overwhelming. To make matters worse, each approach technology comes with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of this article is to give a quick overview of the predominant metal part fabrication techniques and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
"3DEO are, like Desktop Metal and Xact aiming to make metal 3D printing more affordable. Like Desktop Metal and Markforged, they are using MIM powders and a secondary sintering step to achieve that. However, the big difference comes in their process, 3DEO describes six steps to achieving a finished metal part that is more affordable and meets the high industry benchmark MPIF Standard 35 while still achieving tight tolerances."
Industry 4.0. The fourth industrial revolution. Experts seem clear that a significant step forward is happening in factories around the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) has made its way onto the plant floor and now entire factories are becoming "smart" with an explosion of sensors and internet connected equipment. Mountains of data are beginning to flow seamlessly from machine-to-machine and from machine-to-man. As the cyber universe grows within factories, a logical addition is the ability to pull an object from the virtual world of data and create its physical counterpart on demand. Manufacturing new parts by changing a file rather than creating a costly and time-intensive mold is what makes 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, so interesting in production. Additive manufacturing has firmly planted its flag in Industry 4.0 and continues its rapid pace of development as emerging additive manufacturing technologies are finding applications across the ever-changing industrial manufacturing landscape.
Excitement swirls around additive manufacturing as top industrial companies continue to pour significant dollars into R&D and other additive manufacturing initiatives. The investments in additive manufacturing are aimed at understanding the full capabilities of the technology and integrating additive manufacturing into their own product development and production processes.
In traditional manufacturing, economies of scale and scope are potent competitive advantages. Scale is achieved by minimizing fixed costs (such as tooling) and by manufacturing an extremely high volume of products. At 100 pieces, a tool that costs $100,000 contributes $1,000 cost to each piece. At 1,000,000 pieces, the tool cost is a tiny fraction of the final part cost. Clearly, with tooling and high fixed costs, the competitive advantage is awarded to the manufacturer with scale operations.
Rachel Park: I was really interested to get deeper insight into the 3DEO offering. There is some cross-over with the Desktop Metal narrative here, specifically it is a new, low-cost metal 3D printing process, it uses MIM materials and it is innovative and disruptive in nature. There is plenty to differentiate it though, because the extremely clever team behind it is offering this process as a service, demonstrating good results and does not appear to be over-promising anything. The process itself is intriguing — it is, at first glance, a powder bed binding process. However, the nature of the binder delivery is absolutely key and there is a hybrid approach included in the process in that a subtractive tool precisely cuts away at the defined geometry every few layers. Moreover, the team is open about the limitations of MIM materials, particularly in terms of shrinkage and densities. But, like, I said they are demonstrating some impressive results.
Another new player in the metals field is 3DEO. This group sees the need for low-cost, high volume, on-time-delivery of parts and is producing them with a unique, in-house binder/powder process termed Intelligent Layering. Offered as a cost-effective manufacturing service, 3DEO’s approach combines expertise in powder metallurgy, CNC machining, sintering, materials science and AM. Intelligent Layering eliminates the classic stair-stepping effect with on-the-fly adjustment of the deposited powder layer, applying a delicate binder-spray that avoids particle agglomeration and using micro-end-mills to precisely machine part-perimeters. Sintering then creates 97% totally dense parts with no infill required. 3DEO includes complete mechanical testing facilities, yet its approach yields 60 to 80% lower part costs.