Innovative 3D printing company builds on traditions

A functional hand prosthetics add+it+tech 3D printed for a not-for-profit organisation.

Manufacturers’ Monthly caught up with Aran Fitzgerald, founder and managing director of add+it+tech to find out how his company combines innovative 3D printing techniques with traditional manufacturing methods.

From 3D printed spare part solutions for out-of- production parts to creating prototypes or casts through reverse engineering, individuals and industries are increasingly finding new solutions in 3D printing to fit their needs.

Manufacturer’s Monthly reached out to Melbourne-based high-tech start-up company add+it+tech, which was a finalist in the category of outstanding start-ups as part of the Endeavour Awards, held in May last year.

add+it+tech is an additive manufacturing and 3D printing company that offers a complete service from idea to product, with plastics 3D printing and SLM (Selective Laser Melting) metal printing capabilities. In addition, the company has developed its own in-house metal printer, which is used for printing larger, less intricate metal parts.

Aran Fitzgerald founded add+it+tech in 2013, while working as the managing director of Steg Engineering, a general engineering company co-founded by his father in 1987.

Steg Engineering was also a finalist in last year’s Endeavour Awards, participating in the category of the most innovative manufacturing company.

Combining Steg Engineering’s experience and capabilities in traditional metal machining and finishing with 3D printing capabilities enables add+it+tech to offer a one- stop-shop solution where modern and traditional techniques can be combined to create the desired results for clients.

According to Aran, what sets add+it+tech apart from other 3D printing companies is that they are flexible in the solutions they offer, keeping in mind the best interests of the clients.

“We are technology agnostic in that way. We are not just fixated on 3D printing,” Aran said. “If a customer comes to us with a part they want 3D printed, we do not just give them our 3D printed price. With our traditional engineering knowledge and contacts we are able to help the customer decide what would be the best way to make it so that it could be better value for them, whether this involves a minor redesign to make the part cheaper to 3D print, or the part is perhaps better manufactured traditionally.”

“A recent example is a product that we are working on for a sports equipment supplier. They have a part that used to be plastic moulded but the company that produced it cannot anymore and they no longer have access to the moulding dies. They brought us a sample and we have modelled it through reverse engineering. As they require about one to two thousands of this product per year, it would not be feasible to 3D print it. So, we may 3D print a pattern for a casting or an injection moulding die, which they can then use for production.”

“To produce an injection moulding die using traditional techniques would cost thousands of dollars, but we can produce that at much lower costs and much quicker using our in-house SLA 3D printing.”

A very thin-walled precision electronics casing printed by add+it+tech for a Melbourne medical device start-up.
A very thin-walled precision electronics casing printed by add+it+tech for a Melbourne medical device start-up.

After being founded in 2013, add+it+tech initially offered Australian businesses access to
the very costly metal 3D printing services via an ex colleague of Aran’s who provides this service in Switzerland. But as plastics started as an affordable means to promote the business, the demand for this service grew.

add+it+tech has since delivered numerous projects for individual and industrial clients, including Crown Melbourne, BlueScope Steel and the ANCA Group.

Some of their recent projects include 3D printing gears in Nylon12 as well as crane joystick wear parts for BlueScope steel, which are not readily available in the market. They have also produced ventilation domes for Crown’s casino gaming tables, dies for a carbon fibre composites company, jewellery castings, micro-electronics casings and flexible rubber prototypes, among other projects.

“Most recently we have been involved in a project for manufacturing a tube-forming machine for the ANCA Group from concept to delivery. The project combines traditional engineering and added 3D printed high-temp plastic parts to come up with the best solution.”

add+it+tech has also been developing a custom robotic welding machine called Robotic Arc-weld Additive Manufacturing (RoAr-AM), which enables them to 3D print parts in metal of a scale, speed and order of magnitude better than the common SLM technique. RoAr-AM uses a robotically controlled arc-welding process to form parts directly from a computer 3D model file.

“This technique fills a gap between casting, which is suited to mass production, and current 3D metal printing techniques such as SLM, which is suited to small, high-detailed parts and is currently common in aerospace and medical applications due to the cost.”

While the technology is still in development stage and will probably take another year to be rolled out, add+it+tech has already trialled it successfully on a number of projects.

“The technique is suitable for 3D printing parts that require complex shapes, but do not necessarily need high precision surface finishes. It is an ideal method for anything
that cannot be cast in a traditional casting method or is a one-off part that is expensive to cast.” Aran said. “I don’t like to say what the technology is best for as I found that my customers have much better imaginations than I have!”