Getting ahead of the 3D game

Matt Minio, managing director of Objective 3D shares his thoughts on the advancements and popularity of metal 3D printing in the manufacturing space.

According to Wohler Associate analysts, 3D printing has grown into a multi-billion industry that has been picking up the pace since getting onto the scene more than 15 years ago and boasts a footprint across multiple industries. In 2016, the “additive manufacturing” industry, as it is known, grew by 17.4 per cent in worldwide revenues. By 2020, it is estimated that 6.7 million 3D printers will ship.

Companies like Stratasys are experimenting with ways to scale up 3D printing production to make it more competitive with conventional manufacturing methods in terms of the return of investment (ROI) it brings. With automation, the production volume capabilities of these printers increase, and the total cost of production is cut. The result is a more cost-effective product that is created more quickly with minimal manual intervention.

Enter Objective 3D, distributors of multiple 3D printing technologies who also manufacture parts in-house for customers all over Australia within their facility in Carrum Downs.

“We started out as a distributor of high-end 3D printers and we are fairly niche in this area. We did this for a number of years before acquiring a 3D printing bureau service, and after that we collectively cover every aspect of the 3D printing market,” said Matt Minio, managing director of Objective 3D. He added that they manufacture parts for a huge range of industries and applications as well as for companies who are thinking about getting into 3D printing, starting with outsourcing their manufacture before committing to the purchase of their own in-house system. This includes anything from prototypes, tooling, jigs and fixtures to low volume production manufacturing parts.

“Australia is pretty much following the trend with the rest of the world with slight variations in different countries,” said Minio. “But there’s still really good growth in both areas of our business with 3D printing in the sale of equipment. Also, our 3D printing and manufacturing services are both growing at a similar rate of knots.”

With the advancement in the technology of the machines and more-so in the advancement of, the materials, 3D printers are able to produce stronger, tougher, more robust, durable parts.

“We’re now manufacturing injection moulding tools that were traditionally manufactured out of steel or at least aluminium and had to be machined. That took weeks of turn-around to do but now we can actually 3D print them same day out of extremely tough plastic and perform low-volume production runs with them,” said Minio.

While 3D printing has come a long way with the strength of parts that can be used, there are still challenges around producing fast machines that manufacture mass production parts. Minio explained that 3D printing is still in the realms of good prototyping, functional testing and low-volume production but with the speed of development that 3D printing is going, he thinks that it is only a matter of time before the technology becomes a mainstay in production lines.

Metal 3D printing

Objective 3D also sells concept laser SLM (Selective Laser Melting) printers which utilises a bed of powder and a laser beam that basically traces a path of welds or fuses the metal powder together.

Two key industries that can immediately benefit from this technology are aerospace and transport industries for lightweight parts with same strength applications, as well as part consolidation from many components into one. The second industry relates to medical applications including titanium patient specific implants in the human body and medical devices and tools used during surgery.

In the metalworking space, Minio described the environment as one that is changing rapidly. “We are excited to be the ANZ distributors at the end of last year, for a new metal 3d printer manufacturer called Desktop Metal who has introduced a brand-new metal 3D printer to the market. One of the game changing aspects of this printer is its price.”

It’s like an FDM extrusion based plastic printer, but it extrudes metal. Many of the traditional metal machines with the same build envelope size are over $1,000,000 while the Desktop Metal turnkey 3d printing solution is less than a quarter of this price.

“There is dramatic cost savings on the machine itself, which is already shipping production units in the US, and shipping to Australia with deliveries from June 2018. Desktop Metal are also working on a high throughput low material cost production metal 3D printer, and that’s what I’m really excited about for Australian industry in the near future,” said Minio

He describes the production machine (already in development) as a powder bed metal printer that uses a binder system, like a glue, to bind all the powder together. This is in contrast to using a laser beam melting and fusing the powder together, the traditional metal printing process. The parts are then taken off the printer, put into a furnace, with the metal particles then fusing together into a strong metal part which is 99 per cent dense when compared to machining the same part on a CNC machine. The parts are actually stronger and more accurate than investment and traditionally cast parts.

“With the Desktop Metal production system being release at the end of 2019, I see a whole new Australian market embracing metal 3D printing because of its commercial viability in terms of time and cost, comparing with traditional manufacturing.” said Minio.

The Objective3D range

Minio said that one of their best-selling 3D Printers is a polymer 3D printer known as the Connex 3, which he describes as the only commercial machine in the world that can print multi material and multi-colour combinations in the one print at the one time.

“These machines allow us to manufacture over 300,000 material combinations and colours off the one 3D printer. An example of this would be a part predominantly made of hard plastics but over moulded with rubber like materials in varying Shore A hardness in the one 3d printed part.

“We also have our new F123 FDM machines that we launched in 2017, which have been our bestsellers volume wise during 2017. Our customers have described them to be value for money, producing strong parts, prototypes and great functional testing capabilities,” said Minio.