AMT Seeks to Automate the 3D Printing Ecosystem –

It was once thought-about 3D printing’s “soiled secret.” Now, nevertheless, post-processing isn’t only a well-known side of the business, however it’s a thriving subsegment in itself. Simply learn SmarTech’s report, “Automation, Additive Manufacturing and the Manufacturing unit of the Future,” to get an understanding of how the expertise is essential to the “lights-out” nature of robotic 3D printing vegetation.

At this time, there are solely actually a handful of corporations within the sector and, amongst them, AMT is a standout. That is partially as a result of high-profile prospects which have adopted AMT’s options, in addition to the truth that it appears to be the one post-processing firm centered on tackling the entire section and never simply ending options for this or that additive manufacturing (AM) expertise. To be taught extra about this significant section and AMT’s position inside it, we spoke to CEO Joseph Crabtree.

AMT’s bread and butter is presently vapor smoothing and depowdering gear for polymer 3D printing applied sciences. Its chemical vapor course of could be seal in any other case porous elements made with materials extrusion or powder mattress fusion methods, giving them a vibrant, injection molding-style end. Depowdering is particularly for powder mattress fusion and makes use of shot blasting to make sure that elements are free of fabric particles earlier than additional processing.

Along with precise ending of 3D printed elements, there are different facets of the 3D printing workflow which are within the technique of being automated. In reality, nearly a decade in the past, AM corporations like Idea Laser and Additive Industries had been promising robotic programs able to conveying powder and completed elements across the manufacturing unit flooring. Years later, corporations like AMT are literally working to ship such options.

Collaborating with the College of Nottingham and thru its personal inner analysis, the agency is working to allow robots to determine, pick-and-place, and transport elements. Whereas the picture of machines robotically transferring elements all through a facility could also be what sparks the creativeness most, it’s the software program that’s the extra advanced job.

“Changing a human operator is definitely fairly advanced as a result of people are superb at performing duties like, for instance, hooking elements onto a rack after which loading the rack right into a machine. Whereas robots can try this job in a repeatedly, reproducible method with 200,000 an identical injection molded elements, it’s very exhausting to truly get a robotic to know the place the middle of gravity of a 3D printed half is—find out how to choose and place that half, after which the way you high quality examine and all of these sort of attributes {that a} human may be very, superb at, however robotics programs are usually not so good. If each half is totally different, then that’s a stage of complexity that’s fairly a problem to automate within the workflow.”

To perform this job, the corporate is working with Oechsler, a German injection molding firm with over 150 years within the enterprise. Along with HP, the companions will work to totally automate the manufacturing to ending workflow. Slated to be accomplished over the course of a year-and-a-half, the mission will see a cell for robotically post-processing elements from 10 HP Multi Jet Fusion printers without delay.

“Our work with Oechsler goes to contain all these totally different steps, which is the bodily facet of post-processing for ending, however then additionally the way you overlay the digital facet, which is clearly the software program. In essence, the way you exchange the human operator and make it a very touchless system. And that’s the issue as a result of the fantastic thing about 3D printing is that each half could be totally different.”

The problem is integrating software program, {hardware}, machine studying, imaginative and prescient programs, and 3D printer right into a single cell. This implies digital connecting and interfacing with HP machines, eradicating half robotically, and processing them. As a result of MJF printers weren’t designed for this form of workflow initially, it means modifying the gear.

“We’re pushing the design envelope of all the {hardware} and making certain that it’s match for objective when it comes to a producing sense,” Crabtree mentioned.

Crabtree believes that the primary manufacturing line will likely be delivered in early 2023. When it’s, will probably be used for high-end, seen elements for automotive, medical, furniture-making, and different purposes. Actually, it alerts a brand new period in AM.

HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers at Oeschler’s facility in German. Picture courtesy of Oeschler.

“I believe that the important thing half about that is that the top buyer is thought within the public markets. These are automotive elements for Class A floor finishes,” Crabtree mentioned. “These are elements could be ordered on the automotive OEM’s web site, the place they are often specified in your automobile, and are elements which are of probably the most crucial high quality Class A floor end. We’re not simply speaking a few widget that sits underneath the dashboard. It’s one thing that may be very seen, excessive finish automotive vehicles on this area.”

A Options Supplier

Out of all of the few corporations concerned in post-processing, AMT has the distinctive technique of working towards full options. That’s, it’s creating options for quite a lot of polymer additive processes, with metallic within the works.

Joseph Crabtree with a PostPro3D system. Picture courtesy of AMT.

The rationale behind that is easy sufficient: new 3D printing customers don’t essentially perceive the business. That’s, new prospects may even see the additive area as being very difficult, not sure of what applied sciences or supplies are greatest fitted to a given software.

“The most important problem is from the client’s perspective is definitely the selection. The person journey remains to be not easy. When you purchase an injection molding machine, it’s actually apparent what to do. You might have some tooling made. You realize what supplies go in there. It’s a identified course of. With 3D printing, we’re not fairly positive how we scale manufacturing. That’s the hole that we’re making an attempt to bridge.”

Relatively than depart a producer to determine what to do for themselves, AMT supplies a tailor-made answer. “It’s not simply, right here’s a machine that smooths elements, or right here’s a machine that cleans elements. It’s an answer that’s tailor-made to your actual wants. And people wants could also be totally different relying on in case you’re producing a working shoe, a widget for medical purposes, or an automotive half. And I believe that’s the trick the business as an entire is lacking,” Crabtree mentioned.

He continued, “And that’s one of many causes that Oechsler contracted us. Not solely do we offer the bodily constructing blocks for an end-to-end answer and might have the overarching software program, machine studying, and imaginative and prescient recognition programs. We’re providing a customizable and tailor-made answer that’s the fitting match for them. And I believe that, as we undergo the following months and years, you’ll begin to see that consolidation of supplies and printer corporations with these ending corporations and software program corporations and offering these one-stop options.”

Market Consolidation

Given the merger and acquisition exercise that briefly flourished in 2021, in addition to the rising dimension of the businesses coming into the AM business, we should always anticipate additional consolidation sooner or later. That’s, if the general market circumstances enhance, maybe within the subsequent 18-24 months.

When that exercise does choose up, Crabtree agreed that we’ll see extra consolidation. With a purpose to provide post-processing gear or one-stop AM options, some machine producers like HP, 3D Methods, or Stratasys, could take into account the acquisition route. Nevertheless, the post-processing area remains to be underdeveloped, so a possible purchaser will most likely wish to anticipate the present companies to develop the area sufficiently earlier than swooping in.

In the mean time, Stratasys has chosen DyeMansion for its selective absorption fusion expertise, whereas 3D Methods and HP work extra intently with AMT and Carbon collaborates with PostProcess Applied sciences. Might we see mergers happen between these corporations? Another choice could possibly be for a big conglomerate to leap into the business and purchase each printer producers and post-processing corporations to type an entire AM division.

“The worth is in corporations like AMT mainly doing the painful work, creating all of the {hardware} and the ecosystem. Then, I can see a time the place a printer OEM would consolidate,” Crabtree mentioned. “Now, after all, then it’s a query of scaleof the OEM. Does somebody come alongside and purchase a printer firm and a submit processing firm? The buying agency would have to be sufficiently big and the market dimension must be sufficiently big to justify that.”

The Subsequent Stage

The expansion that may occur on AMT’s half is not going to solely be better automation, but in addition a broader product portfolio. This consists of smoothing of metallic elements. The startup has carried out elementary analysis within the area and has been granted numerous patents for post-processing of metallic 3D printed elements. In reality, it has already begun promoting programs for cleansing metallic elements. An official metallic post-processing line, nevertheless, received’t make it to marketplace for one other 18 to 24 months.

As soon as this occurs, it will make AMT the one enterprise that manufactures each metallic and polymer post-processing options. Absolutely, different corporations within the area are racing to catch up. Nevertheless, AMT is already a lot farther alongside and whether or not or not the competitors can truly accomplish that with out consolidation stays to be seen.

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