As you may have learned from Part 1 of this series, there is an evolution of 3D printing metal that has been going on for two years. Besides the much-publicized hype from HP, Desktop Metal, GE and Markforged on the binding jet, there are alternative companies that are working away from the spotlight. Companies such as One Click Metal, LMI, Sharebot, Xact Metal and Meltio have deployed low cost metal 3D printers. They aim to make easy-to-use metal printers accessible in semi-factory environments. This is a huge market with the potential to bring metal 3D printing to hundreds of thousands of workshops, factories and engineering companies around the world. This is the greatest opportunity you have never thought of. Today we are going to take a look at some of the market participants and what they need to resolve.
Don’t hate me, this list is not exhaustive.
One click in metal
One Click Metal is a German company that is completely under the radar for most people, but has a lot of potential. The company is essentially a startup within Trumpf, one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial lasers and metal forming equipment. Trumpf is reliable and has extensive knowledge of lasers and metalworking; however, it is slow and heavy. So for them to take the Skunkworks route and enable this faster innovative startup is simply brilliant.
You can get a Bold Series Powder Bed Laser Fusion (PBF) 3D printer for $ 55,000. A Mpure unpacking station costs $ 21,000. The station recycles the powder, sieves and helps you unpack the parts. You can also get a starter kit for aluminum, stainless steel, and tool steel. Consumables are sold in 10 kg cartridges and include a cartridge deposit. The company says it wants to make the prices of consumables reasonable. All prices for all components are transparent and available in an online store. The company also has a monthly subscription to a software package at various levels that can prepare and simulate parts, as well as a training program.
Overall, I like the transparency and comprehensiveness of the proposition One Click Metal offers. The fact that it also bears Trumpf’s name and expertise is a huge plus for me. What they don’t seem to have is a lot of aggression and killer instincts for marketing and growth.
Laser fusion innovations
Another German company is Laser Melting Innovations, this one is a spin-out of Fraunhofer ILT and is comfortably nestled in the hands of industrial molding and manufacturing equipment company Kurtz Ersa. This company has a turnover of approximately $ 230 million and 1,200 employees. The Alpha Printer has open process settings and is available for purchase. The system can process some nickel alloys, stainless steel, tool steels and the team is working on aluminum.
This company has placed the optics on a stage of motion and uses nitrogen as a gas to reduce costs compared to the infrastructure needed for argon and the like. Laser Melting Innovations has its own software, LMI SliceAM, and integrates with Fusion 360 and Netfabb to optimize your workflow.
By working with Kurtz Ersa, the company can offer its products worldwide. Interestingly, although Germany is seen as a relative hotbed of venture capital activity for Europe, these companies end up working with established companies rather than unicorns. Overall the system looks complete and a very nifty thing indeed. But, One Click Metal has more than a complete ecosystem with sifting and the like. For many, using Inconel and aluminum on such an inexpensive system would be very exciting.
Meltio offers a system for both wire and metal powder at low cost. This in itself is unique and will give them coins that are much cheaper than other players. In addition, it allows you to use commodity MIG welding wire for carbon steels, stainless steels, Inconel, titanium, aluminum and copper.
The Meltio Engine unit can be integrated with existing equipment and turn your motion scene into an inexpensive 3D printer. In doing so, the firm is offering something unique for this segment, which could see it grow faster. Do you want a metal printer on a robotic arm or your six axis router? Then Meltio will be the cheapest way for you to do it. In addition, it will have the cheapest raw material. The engine also allows you to add lasers.
The company relies on Simplify3D for its software and is generally more open than other entrants. Meltio also has an online scanning system and a stand-alone scanning system to allow you to check parts and perform quality control. Rather than a single printer, it has the super low cost m450 and the larger polymer and composite units F600 and F1000. By having the engine and a range of printers, the company has a very comprehensive machine portfolio for this segment and can also sell systems. What I like about Meltio is the security and low cost of wire charging. This gives the system potential access to much more material than other printers in its class.
Sharebot is a hyper-innovative Italian company that manufactures a wide variety of types of 3D printers. Since 2018, the Sharebot team has been working on the MetalOne system, which is currently in beta testing. The company currently offers 316L and cobalt chrome. The printer works with both nitrogen and argon and has fully open settings. Sharebot relies on Simplify3D for the software and has not disclosed how it will distribute or support printers.
Launched in 2017 in Pennsylvania, Xact Metal offers three PBF 3D printers. A gantry based laser system is essential to keep everything low cost and steels 316L, 17-4 PH, 15-5, Inconel 718 and 625, Chrome Cobalt, Hastelloy X, tool steel, titanium, aluminum, bronze and copper are available. The impressive range of superalloys, aluminum and copper is notable here in this segment. Its XM300C product even has multiple lasers and multiple feed chambers. While the post-processing offering doesn’t seem as comprehensive here, a lot of the engineering has gone into Xact’s boxes. The company has even developed unique coating technology. For software, you can choose Autodesk or Materialize.
Lumentum recently acquired Coherent, maker of the Creator3D printer, the fate of which we can only speculate. The printer is PBF and comes with APP SUITE CAM software. A tablet-based controller is a cool feature, as is a cool circular liner system. The printer can process titanium, aluminum, cobalt chrome, nickels and steels. One possible advantage is that they say the printer can also work with precious metals. It is not clear at this time if Coherent supports the machine, as it would also not have been supported months ago.
Additec’s printer is a very small directed energy deposition system that uses raw material for printing. You can add up to four feeders to the machine and a separate printhead is available. It is not clear at this time whether the Additec printer is still supported or offered. Let us know if this is the case!
The cool folks at FreeMelt probably didn’t know they were in this segment unit, they read this. FreeMelt offers an open source, open source Electron Beam Fusion (EBM) system, which is very complex with which you can do whatever you want. It is intended for laboratories and researchers who want to produce new materials and push the boundaries. Swedish FreeMelt has an American alternative to the American PBF provider OpenAdditive. All of the other entrants make systems that are simple and easy to use. I would say, however, that the path to volume is open for both companies if they only make closed, easy-to-use versions of their existing systems.
The experienced team at FreeMelt has a lot of knowledge in EBM metallurgy. EBM is a very interesting technology for orthopedic implants, but it is also a productive technology for aerospace parts and other technical components. There are very few subtleties in the system, nor their automation or post-processing aids. This is an open-as-you-go unit of settings that makes EBM accessible and lets you take control of the process. Would you like to change the parameters of your electron beam? Have at it. Want to look at software, a parameter or a value? Dark. The system and architecture are very open and could therefore be integrated with existing software and tools.
OpenAdditive, based in the United States, is a similar open box, but for laser PBF. Its Panda system also allows you to modify all parameters, all software parameters and hardware elements. The printer comes with an open machine order and a tracking package called AMSENSE while it works with 316L, Aluminum, Inconel 718, and Ti64. The company offers screening stations and other equipment, as well as service and training packages.