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  • Writer's pictureMatthias Bringezu

Day 2 at SME Rapid [Long Beach – USA]

Tuesday, the 2nd day at SME Rapid started with a keynote session of Jason Dunn from Made in Space. Jason took us in his presentation through the whole project, from the early attempts with off-the-shelf machines to the development and operation of a custom system. Jason explained the difficulties the team had to overcome and the very high standards and requirements of NASA. Did you know that an astronaut costs about USD 40k per hour. That’s what you can call high “labour costs”. Though the requirements on this “simple machine” were: Plug & Play, fully remote operation and being absolutely safe. Thinking about off-the-shelf entry level polymer extrusion systems the first two boxes would certainly not be ticked. But what Jason mentioned regarding the safety was possibly the most remarkable line of his presentation. The “Made in Space” printer had to be a zero-emissions-device. Not emitting any fumes or particles to the space station’s atmosphere was essential. According to Jason, NASA measurements unveiled significant emissions of nano-particles whilst operating this polymer extrusion system. That’s why the system is sealed and operated only in a glove box on the ISS. So if it’s not safe for an astronaut in space you may like to think about where you have placed your hobbiest extruder system at home.

Personally, I will be very excited to see the first direct metal system in space. Jason mentioned the concept of a wired fed metal system with an electron beam as an energy source. However, the electric energy required to operate such a system is just one of the many challenges. But the concepts are taking shape.

The conference The hardest thing when you attend this kind of events is to choose from all the presentations running in sessions parallel.

On Tuesday following sessions were offered at Rapid : – Medical Manufacturing Innovation – Casting I – Business Economic Considerations I – Materials for Additive Manufacturing Applications I – Design Considerations for Additive Manufacturing I – Industrial Applications of Additive Manufacturing

Each of this sessions is a stream of presentations of half an hour each. Being interested in different topics means you have to hop from one conference room to another.

I choose the following sessions for Tuesday: “Metal Additive Manufacturing Market Trends : Materials, Systems and the Future” “Manufacturing PEEK Titanium Composite for Spinal Devices Using AM Method” “Additive Metals: State of the Art in process Monitoring and Safety Assurance” “Non destructive Inspection of Ti-6Al-4C produced using Electron Beam Energy Deposition”

The exhibition floor I spent the rest of the day on the exhibition floor where all the OEMs were showing their latest developments. With all major OEMs of direct metal technologies and hybrid-technologies (CNC plus AM) on the expo it was really hard to choose where to go first.

My ex-colleagues from SLM Solutions showed off their top of the range SLM500 quad laser system. It is impressive to see four laser operating simultaneously on four work pieces. This machine is representing the laser based powder bed fusion system with the highest level of productivity turning powder into metal. I took a little video of the system in operation. EOS had their DMLS M290 system on display. This machine represents with its previous version M270/M280 the machine with the largest installation base. I talked to EOS about their top range systems M400 and was told that there are currently 13 total installations of this machine. EOS also had some nice parts from Cookson Gold on display.


Cookson Gold specialises in processing of precious metals on EOS M080 systems. Further EOS showed parts of 3DMicroPrint GmbH, a spin-off of EOS producing metal parts in an astonishing resolution of typically 5 microns a layer.

Concept Laser had two machines on their booth. The M2 system which has the most common build envelope size.

Further the Mlab system was on show. The Mlab is designed for jewellery and dental industry. The entire material/powder is in a cassette system which can be removed for secure storage. I shot a video of the machine in operation. Concept Laser showed parts of their cooperation with Aero industry, making clear that sky won’t be the limit.

RENISHAW presented their AM250 system, the same machine I saw just 3 days earlier at my visit at TiDA / R.A.M in Tauranga. Bob Bennett from RENISHAW took the time to take me through the latest improvements on the AM250 system. RENISHAW aim is to provide a stable low maintenance machine and fast support when needed. With a fast growing fleet of metal AM systems this is also growing challenge for the OEMs. I was more curious to hear from Bob more about RENISHAWs “EVO Project”, a machine which will be unveiled later this year. However, Bob kept quiet but told me that RENISHAW will also build all the optical components themselves. Interesting as the other OEMs are buying the scanner units typically from just one supplier.

3D systems was showing their ProX200 system. This system is based on the PHENIX System machine. The French company PHENIX system was acquired by 3D Systems in 2013. The specialty of the PHENIX Systems / ProX systems is the capability of processing not only metal but also ceramic materials.

It was also interesting to see that many of the powder manufacturers were exhibiting. The metal powder industry has realized that powders for metal AM are a market that’s growing very rapidly. According to several industry experts aircraft manufacturers are asking for capabilities to supply hundreds of tons of material per year. Looking at current build-up rates of state of the art direct metal AM systems this numbers translates directly to an enormous demand for AM machines.

Written by Matthias Bringezu


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