Manufacturers’ Monthly explores how SQP Engineering has progressed from a sub-contract machine shop to a manufacturing solutions hub with the help of Markforged 3D printing systems.
In 2006, David Miller began a small-scale jobbing shop, renting out an area within another workshop with a couple of NC lathes and a mill. Over the first few years, SQP began to establish itself via its precision-machined products for mining equipment.
Being a Western Australian business, mining and oil and gas remains a critical focus, but Miller credits an investment in new automation and technology as the main reason for SQP’s growth, to a point where it has expanded into producing for industries like agriculture, maritime and defence.
SQP has its own purpose-built facility in WA’s Bibra Lake, where it employs and trains local talent to operate high-quality CNC machine tools, robotics and additive manufacturing technologies. As an early adopter of Industry 4.0 technology, SQP was the first company in Western Australia to purchase a Markforged FX20, which enables large-scale and rapid manufacture of 3D printed composite parts.
“At the time there were two trains of thought – you were either manufacturing or additive manufacturing – and I saw a reasonably large gap where people weren’t doing both,” David Miller explained.
“We thought to utilise both skillsets to give the customer the right outcome but also the right choice. Before additive manufacturing, we often had to tell the customer their methods, drawings or even the whole concept and eventual outcome needed to change. That discussion has been turned on its head because you can pretty much do what you like now with the rules of additive manufacturing.”
With a core specialty in machining, SQP was finding itself fielding requests for specialised parts which were either too expensive or outright impossible to machine. To capitalise on these lost opportunities, Miller sought a solution.
A specific challenge kickstarted SQP’s additive manufacturing journey. The team needed to produce a specialised production part for its customer: a wireline counter cover for mining equipment systems. However, the business was unable to produce the required result in the needed time frame using its existing equipment.
Not only was machining expensive and unable to produce an accurate, fit- for-purpose part, the existing polymer 3D printer was not powerful enough to allow SQP to meet acceptable lead times: each cycle took nine hours. Miller said the older technology produced a suboptimal finish, and after fishing around for the right solution, he decided that a larger and faster composite 3D printer could quickly and efficiently produce these specialised parts.
Markforged’s 3D printed systems were the solution. The wireline counter cover, which took nine hours to print, now takes just 2.5 hours. To date, SQP has printed more than 100.
“Printed parts from the FX20 look 10 times better than the ones we printed before,” he said. “Customers are completely blown away when they see the surface finish. Once I showed our customer the new and improved part he was blown away as well. His products now look a hell of a lot better.”
SQP also brought the Markforged Metal X system in-house to round out additive capabilities. With the FX20 and Metal X in tandem, SQP can be the one-stop shop its customer’s needs, manufacturing a wide range of production-grade parts that no one can machine — while delivering with better pricing and turnaround times.
“The FX20 was a no-brainer for me,” Miller noted. “The platform, the build size, the enhanced additive manufacturing technologies — it gives me an edge above a lot of the competition.”
Built to scale distributed global production, the FX20 is precision- designed and sensor-driven to deliver breakthrough accuracy, quality and reliability to fabricate parts directly at the point-of-need with the simple click of a button. It is known as the fastest, and smartest 3D printer Markforged has ever produced.
The new technology, alongside high-temperature printing capabilities, elevates the Digital Forge platform from accessible industrial-strength composite manufacturing to robust production applications. The FX20 has a heated build chamber capable of maintaining up to a 200°C temperature and the capacity to print parts up to 525 mm x 400 mm x 400 mm in size.
Richard Elving, Markforged Senior Director for APAC, explained the FX20 is up to eight times faster than the default print settings on Markforged’s existing line of composite printers and prints nearly five times larger builds than its next largest printer, the X7.
“Given our remoteness in Australia, supply chain issues can be costly and time sensitive, and with the FX20 we see this as an enabler of printing parts that will provide a competitive advantage to manufacturers by being able to react quickly to solve problems right on the manufacturing floor,” he said.
“The FX20 will meet the needs of even the most demanding local industries, such as defence, F&B and mining. It is a beast of a machine and represents our commitment to providing innovative solutions to our customers to empower them to build anything they can imagine.”
Front and centre for Markforged is its mission to combine hardware and software to produce end-use, mission critical parts. This mission helps to overcome the limitations of traditional manufacturing, building resilient and sustainable supply chains for local manufacturers. SQP exemplifies this, and David Miller sees the FX20 and Metal X systems as integral to a future of better solutions for customers.
The ability to quickly print a wide array of production- quality parts will allow SQP’s customers to easily get challenging parts that otherwise cannot be easily procured – and give the option to get machinable parts cheaper and faster without compromising quality. Miller is excited about the new doors the FX20 and Metal X system will open for his business.
“We’re planning on using the FX20 to expand into medical, aviation, and agriculture,” he said. “It’s allowing us to expand the horizon a little bit and manufacture more of what Western Australia needs.”
Taking pride in being an early adopter of industry 4.0 and having a technologically advanced machine shop, SQP embraces the cutting edge. He says that everything SQP does, he wants to digitise to make it simpler for the operator – Markforged fits that concept perfectly.
“There’s a required skillset for 3D printing. Not just the modelling, but a skillset with how you arrange your model, where the holes go and your constraints,” he explained. “The Markforged system makes it user friendly and quite easy for you to figure that out, which has a drastic impact on the outcome of producing successful prints.”
Miller believes that embracing additive manufacturing is crucial to stay competitive now and in the future.
“My two boys work for me, they’re in their first and second years of apprenticeship. I want to continue being more technically advanced than the competition. This technology is evolving as we speak. If I don’t get involved with it, and if I don’t get my boys involved with it, I’ll be letting them and SQP Engineering down at the same time,” Miller said.
“If you’re going to be competitive, you need to have a solution for all aspects of manufacturing. Not just what we’ve been doing yesterday. We need to evolve and embrace the manufacturing technologies of tomorrow as well.”