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Five Reasons Why Companies Are Turning To AM

Five Reasons Why Companies Are Turning to AM

Additive manufacturing of metal is popular, but some end user companies are reticent about in-house printing of metals parts. Article by SmarTech.

This is, we believe, a powerful factor creating opportunities for metal additive manufacturing service bureaus. This article defines five factors that have some service bureaus planning for a doubling the number of metal machines in 2019.

Metals Printing Can be Trouble

In the future service bureaus are likely to lose business to in-house 3D printer deployments for polymer printing, but their metals business may increase. Additive manufacturing with polymers is more user-friendly than metals printing making the capital and expertise easier for end users to move the process in-house. There are more process parameters and knowledge involved with metal printing. And, on the materials side, new metals may require special techniques and expertise that are not easily or quickly achieved in-house. This “tribal” knowledge will help service bureaus keep their competitive advantage longer as metal AM becomes more cost-effective and user-friendly.

Metal 3D printers will reduce in cost in the next few years – we have already seen how this could happen from the latest HP and Desktop Metal products. Nonetheless, SmarTech Analysis believes that the combination service provider knowledge, supply chain efficiencies, and high-capital cost will keep metal service bureaus competitive for the foreseeable future.

The “Hot Topic Effect”

The current high level of publicity being afforded to metal printing automatically enhances the prospects for metal service bureaus. Hot topics are, by definition, of immediate importance, but they tend to cool down relatively quickly. It is to be expected that metal additive manufacturing will eventually become less hot as it matures and becomes just another process in the engineering toolbox. Yet, less attention doesn’t necessarily mean that market growth would stop, just that investors’ enthusiasm might shrink.

Lack of User Capital and Low ROI

A classic driver for companies to not 3D print in-house is that some companies just don’t have the capital. The impact of this market driver in metal AM is likely to intensify in the future as more end-user firms find they have a need for metal AM but cannot justify the capex.

Service bureaus also offer a way for companies to dip their toes in the AM metals business without having to invest heavily in the equipment, expertise, or time associated with bringing the process in-house. Some companies may even have the capital, but due to fluctuations and volumes the return on investment (ROI) of in-house metal AM is too low to make it viable. Offering metal 3D printing won’t tie down a service bureau, and a company can test the market to verify a parts value before investing the capital to move production in-house.

Size, Complexity and Service Bureaus

Service bureaus may be able to handle large and complex parts more effectively and efficiently than in-house printing can. Being able to process large parts will give a service bureau additional value. Bringing metal printing in-house is already difficult enough, adding larger more expensive equipment adds complexity.

Finally, understanding different materials, process capabilities, and how complex features can change a design will be the experience service bureaus should have that will prevent or delay companies from moving in-house. Simple design concepts, post processing, and even part orientation can help produce a better product.

Industry Focus Helps

Expertise in a particular industry provides a competitive advantage for service bureaus. It enables a service bureau to better understand its customers and for both customers and service bureaus to interact in a more effective way. As a result, some service bureaus are specializing in customers from the aerospace industry or the medical sector. Specialized automotive service bureaus are also expected to appear in the near future.

These comments apply to polymer AM as well as metals AM, but we note that specialist aerospace and automotive bureaus both have a strong metals orientation. Metals service bureaus that understand the needs, operations and traditions of big metal-using industry sectors are in a better position to win customers than those who don’t.


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Print Perfect

Print Perfect

If 3D printing were a human being, it will be on the verge of adulthood. All the broad outlines are already there, but it might well still have some surprises up its sleeves. Here we take a look at the key trends. By Dr. Thomas Fehn, General Manager Additive Manufacturing, Trumpf.

3D printing is on everyone’s lips, but the term has come to mean very different things to different people – or perhaps it always did. In the case of metal 3D printing, new methods seem to be taking root on an almost annual basis. The idea of constructing parts layer by layer in a powder bed has inspired numerous engineers and developers. Three methods that have already become well established are laser metal fusion (LMF), electron beam melting and binder jetting. They share the limelight with the nozzle-based method of laser metal deposition (LMD) – another additive manufacturing (AM) process – as well as wire-based methods that are also classified as LMD. Measured by market share, LMF and LMD are currently the top AM methods for producing metal parts. But ask “What’s the best method for me?”, and there is unlikely to be an easy answer, because each method has its ups and downs. For example, LMF may be the best option for producing parts with delicate structures at the highest level of quality, but binder jetting can do the job between 10 and a hundred times faster.

If 3D printing were a human being, it would arguably be a gifted 17-year-old. The broad strokes of the teenager’s personality and talents are already visible. The parents can hazard a guess at which direction their offspring is likely to take but, however much the teenager tries to act cool, there is still much they need to learn. Yet so much has already been achieved: the child has learned to walk and talk, read and do math. They have already done their first part-time job and been praised for their efforts, and now they are busy cramming for their high school diploma. There’s something in the air, a sense of freedom and independence, a new dawn.

3D printing is at a similar stage. Engineers and universities are continuing to probe and develop new ways of using the technology. Yet 3D printers have also been in fully fledged industrial use for many years, especially in pioneering sectors such as the aerospace industry.

The teething troubles that dogged it in the early stages – especially with regard to the reproducibility and robustness of the process – have been left behind, conquered by the machine-makers’ skills. 3D printers are gaining ground on the shop floor and ready for industrial use.

More and more business people see the technology making inroads into their industry and are seriously considering jumping on board before their competitors take the plunge. But what are the key trends they should take into account before making their decision?

The Pros And Cons Of Multiple Lasers

The first thing to consider is the build chamber. In principle, it’s true that the more lasers you have in a 3D printer, the faster you can build parts.

This simple equation has fuelled the commercialisation of multi-laser machines with two, three or even more lasers. Unfortunately, however, it’s not that simple, because there are all sorts of other factors that play a role, too. One of the keys to boosting the productivity of 3D printing is to find the optimum combination of scan field, scan speed, temperature adjustment, temperature field, build speed, and gas flow in the work area. The number of lasers and their power output is just one factor among many – though it is certainly one of the most expensive of all the factors involved.

In some cases, a fourth laser can increase the cost of the system by 25 percent while only increasing productivity by a decidedly modest two percent. Often it can be more profitable to start with seemingly less trendy components of the machine such as the build chamber heating system. A smart heating concept is worth its weight in gold because it keeps the printing process stable and increases overall productivity.

Some multi-laser machines with large build chambers promise to speed up the job of producing bulky parts with the argument that two lasers can build the rear portion of the part while the others focus on the front. That also seems sensible at first glance. But the crucial question is what happens in borderline areas. If the lasers’ scan areas are too far apart – in other words if there is not enough overlap between their work areas – then the part ends up with non-homogenous sections and ugly seams. During use, these often mutate into unwanted, yet effectively predetermined, breaking points. What this comes down to is that you can’t identify a highly productive 3D printer by the number of lasers it has, but only by its overall design.

Another aspect of the trend toward multiple elements is the idea of combining 3D printing with other machining methods in a single machine, for example with milling and drilling. Unfortunately, that typically ends up transforming the unquestionable marvels of 3D printing into an annoying drag on the other built-in processes. The reality is that the expensive, integrated milling cutter spends half the day waiting around idly for the 3D printer to reach a certain stage in the build process. Then it leaps into action for two minutes, before returning to its slumber for the remainder of the day. No production planner with any sense would install a high-end milling machine on the shop floor if it was hardly ever going to be used.

Right now – and even in the longer term – the difference in processing speeds between 3D printing and traditional methods is simply too great to offer any good reason for combining them in the same machine. That is no longer the case for other additive manufacturing methods, however, such as laser metal deposition.

A Broader Perspective

However important it may be to ask “How many lasers does the part need?”, it brings into focus a perspective that has traditionally, and understandably, been very narrow. For years, everyone was fixated on the build chamber. Just like with any new method, engineers initially focused on how they could get the process under control and make it faster. And they succeeded: Over the past five years, they have managed to increase the productivity of the LMF process by a factor of three – a truly remarkable achievement in such a short space of time, and a trend that is likely to continue for some time to come.

But the time has now come to adopt a wider perspective by focusing on the upstream and downstream stages of the process. These include unpacking the powder, refilling the machine, sieving the powder and checking it is mixed correctly, as well as blowing or shaking off excess powder, removing parts from the build plate, removing any supports they may contain, and carrying out finishing work on the surface. That’s where some of the greatest potential lies to accelerate and possibly automate individual steps, for example through powder management.

An automatic, self-contained powder handling system is also an appropriate response to occupational health and safety issues, which play a bigger role in the broader industrial environment than they used to. The problem here lies in the metal powder itself, which poses a health risk and should not, under any circumstances, be inhaled. Currently, however, only the biggest companies are opting for the most complete automation solutions for production integration.

In contrast, traditional job shops generally prefer to operate their 3D printer in isolation, rather than incorporating it directly in other production processes.

But however big or small their business, all 3D aficionados have a shared enthusiasm for good software. New concepts are opening the door to a self-contained software process chain without any frustrating interfaces – a chain that stretches from CAD data modelling right through to finishing work.

Apropos these post-processing stages: the supports required by the first generation of 3D parts once formed a magnificent bridge into the realm of this exciting new technology. They still have their uses today, but industrial-scale deployment has revealed their drawbacks by highlighting the increased cost and effort required during post-processing. This realisation is a great example of what industry needs right now: new ideas that cater specifically to 3D.

3D Thinking

The visionary power of 3D printing has always stemmed from the design freedom it offers. Parts can be formed exclusively on the basis of their functionality – and nothing else. Yet the greatest advantage of 3D printing is, at the same time, its greatest challenge. One of the toughest tasks design engineers face is how to rethink existing parts and leave old conventions behind. Most part developers have learned to base their designs on the intended machining process, and in doing so they have assimilated a number of what they considered to be ‘golden rules,’ for example “You can’t drill around a corner”, “You can’t cast a cavity”, and so on.

Particularly in the early days of the 3D revolution, design engineers struggled to liberate themselves from this traditional mode of thinking. Many 3D printed parts greatly resembled their conventional counterparts. But now things have changed. More and more universities and apprenticeship schemes are teaching budding designers to think free form, with no inhibitions concerning the production process. Now the first of this new generation are graduating and looking for jobs.

Equally, some suppliers of 3D printing technologies responded quickly to the huge demand they saw in this area and began supporting their customers with training courses in free-form design. Unlimited design freedom is increasingly becoming a core component of training courses, especially in Germany and Switzerland. China, too, has seen which way the wind is blowing and is teaching its design engineers accordingly. The new generation of designers are likely to make fundamental changes to the shapes and forms of future parts.

At the same time, on the software front, design and simulation programs are improving all the time and automatically suggesting 3D-specific design options. All this will give industrial 3D printing even more of a boost – and that prompts the question of why the laser should only be melting metal.

Beyond Metal

Material diversity – a long underrated argument in the 3D printing debate – is now emerging as one of its most decisive strengths. Both LMF and binder jetting offer levels of flexibility in this respect that are quite simply beyond the scope of other methods. A huge array of metal powders are now commercially available. Users worldwide can acquire them quickly and easily, mixing them together to meet specific requirements. They include a class known as Inconel alloys, which can easily withstand temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius in turbine blades. Equally impressive are the special alloys that allow parts to withstand extreme bending – alloys that can only be processed by 3D printers.

One of the key trends in 3D printing involves new functional materials that go beyond metals, because laser beams are also perfectly capable of melting other materials. Metallic glasses are one example: In the near future, we are likely to see high-grade optical components and mirrors coming out of 3D printers. Meanwhile, developers are currently working on ways to get ceramic powder into 3D printers – another material that is prompting a great deal of interest.

You Can Do It

The more sectors we see taking the plunge into 3D printing with their industry-specific requirements, the greater the variety of machines and production concepts that are likely to emerge.

Something that is good enough to meet the stringent quality standards of the aerospace industry is likely to be far too over-the-top for a moldmaker’s needs. This kind of differentiation is also compounded by the increasing wealth of available materials. Much of the road ahead is already clearly signposted, but there are bound to be a few surprises, too.

So here we have our 17-year-old, a gifted teenager striding proudly and boldly into the world of industry. The parents of 3D printing can finally sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that their teenage prodigy can take it from here.


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Indometal 2018 – A Testament Of Indonesia’s Metalworking Innovations

Indometal 2018 – A Testament Of Indonesia’s Metalworking Innovations

The fourth edition of Indometal has concluded last month. Held at the JI Expo from 17 – 19 October 2018, the exhibition welcomed over 6,700 quality visitors from 25 countries, which is a 15 percent increase from its last edition.

This year’s exhibition also saw visiting groups from a diverse mix of industries across Indonesia including leading companies such as Barata Indonesia, Cikarang Perkasa Manufacturing, Epiterma Mas Indonesia, Growth Asia, Honda Power Products Indonesia, Hyundai, Isuzu, Inalum and more. While from outside of Indonesia, the exhibition also welcomed visitors from countries such as France, Germany, Japan, and visiting delegations that represent various metal and steel sectors from the Czech Republic, as well as the China Foundry Association.

Driven by the expertise of GIFA, METEC, THERMPROCESS and NEWCAST by the Messe Düsseldorf Group, the exhibition had presented showcases in foundry technology, casting products, metallurgy and thermoprocess technology. It also hosted 203 exhibiting companies from 22 countries, including national pavilions and country groups from China, Germany, Indonesia, Italy and Taiwan. This enabled the industry to leverage on the vast knowledge presented and enhance their manufacturing and processing capabilities.

Indonesia: A Marketplace Of Opportunities For Companies

During the keynote address at the opening of the seminar by Mr. Doddy Rahadi, Director of Metals Industry, Ministry of Industry, Republic of Indonesia, emphasis was placed on the significance and importance of steel as a raw material in infrastructure projects and many industrial sectors. Mr. Rahadi also reiterated Indonesia’s need to continue growing its steel industry in order to meet the demands of the domestic market. This reflects  the  recent government focus  on  Indonesia’s Making Indonesia 4.0 initiative and the country’s enhanced upstream investments, which has led to the government to target investments on oil and gas projects which is expected to reach US$17.04 billion this year according to the Energy Ministry. Commenting on Indonesian’s strong market potential and prospects was Ms Sherry Liu, Chief of Marketing Department from Sinomach Foundry and Metal Forming, who said: “In China, the foundry and metal forming equipment market is already at its optimum, we want to explore more markets along with the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. The market in Indonesia is booming, so indometal is a good opportunity for us to seek more business to market our products.”

Her thoughts were echoed by the Korean inorganic binder producers, Dr Revotek, who shared that their company achieved the objectives that they had set out for their first-time participation at indometal. Mrs Park Jaepyeong, the company’s representative, said: “Throughout this exhibition, we have learnt a lot about the metal and steel industry in Indonesia and had a lot of meetings with buyers and companies. Indonesia is an emerging market and the future consumption of metal is great. In that perspective, the industry here has a bright future, and we will come back again to expand our market reach not only to Indonesia, but to the rest of the region. “

A Busy Show Floor Reflecting The Needs Of The Industry

The strong visitor attendance at indometal 2018 alongside the 70 percent participation of international companies to the exhibition, further confirmed indometal’s ability to be a trade platform that provides qualified leads and business opportunities for the metal and steel sectors. “We recognise the importance of cross-industry collaboration and discussion in today’s context, and along with it the ‘in-roads’ required for such strategic leverages. We are pleased to be that choice marketplace for new partnerships and dealerships to be formed between international and local businesses,” said Mrs Rini Sumardi, Director of Wahana Kemalaniaga Makmur, PT (WAKENI), which is a joint organiser of indometal.

Similar sentiments were gathered from visitors from the bustling show floor, and Mr. Ilangovan M, from RM Netra Exim, India, has said that, “This is my first visit to indometal, I found many good testing machines for my company, and at the same time, I am also happy with the wide range of products on the show floor.” His comments resonated with Ms Juliany, Sales Manager of CV Wahana Niaga Distribusi, who commented that, “Our main objective is to add new products such as galvanised steel. I am very interested in some of the products from Krakatau Steel and Gunung Steel Group, and I will bring this new information back to my company for further discussions with management.”

Thought-Leadership At Concurrent Events

The exhibition was also a platform for industry professionals to share best practices through the series of seminars and technical presentations. Mr.Wallter Doloksaribu, Junior Manager of Inalum (Persero), said: “I am from the smelting business and I learnt a lot from the technical seminar conducted by Wesman Thermal Engineering Processes, as I am looking for innovations in combustion and burners. They present a technology that is energy-saving of up to 15 percent, which is something that I will share with my company.”

As a knowledge promotion and sharing platform, the trade fair also featured a series of content-rich conferences by leading associations and organisations that were well-attended by over 200 participants from around the region. Beyond covering trending industry topics, new innovations, applications and technologies, as well as a comprehensive outline of market developments in Indonesia and the region, the conferences, also provided a beneficial forum for industry players to discuss and explore possible collaborations across the smelter, mineral processing, aluminium and motor vehicle industries, and even on manpower and workforce issues dotted by shifts in the demand and supply curve.

The next edition of indometal will take place in October 2020 at the Jakarta International Expo, Kemayoran. For more information, please visit


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