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SLM Solutions Exec Weighs in on Important AM Market Trends

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing
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Winthrop Sheldon of Lübeck, Germany-based SLM Solutions (right), introduces new process verification modules for selective laser melting at Rapid + TCT 2017.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Sheldon recently joined Velo3D as director of sales and business development.

Winthrop Sheldon of SLM Solutions spoke with Editor in Chief Brett Brune at the Aerodef 2017 conference in Texas.

Winthrop, since last year’s Aerodef show, GE chased SLM for a while and ended up buying Arcam and Concept Laser instead. What do you think this means for AM companies and for 3D printing in general?
It’s definitely one of the largest topics we’ve addressed in the last half year at SLM Solutions. There was at first a strong desire to see that acquisition occur. With GE being one of our largest accounts and largest customers globally, we felt an acquisition by GE would have been very advantageous for SLM Solutions. Ultimately, the financial markets got involved and a hedge fund actually soured the deal, by pushing the value of SLM Solutions stock shares above the offer from GE. Now that the dust has settled and we’ve seen that our competitors, Concept Laser and Arcam, have been acquired by GE, we do see it as a positive for the entire industry. I don’t think it’s lost on anybody the impact GE has when they acquire advanced technology, let alone two—for about $1.5 billion. I think it’s very strong news for the overall industry. We need to wait and see what happens in terms of all the value offerings that GE will bring to the table. So machine pricing, consulting, education, training, materials, powdered metals, equipment, advances. There’s a bit of a wait and see, now that the transactions have occurred. And at SLM Solutions, it’s definitely back to business as usual, bringing our products to market.

What’s up with machine trends this year?
In some ways, it’s been very positive for SLM Solutions. In other ways, maybe not so positive, in the sense that a lot of the innovations we’ve been first to market with have actually caught on. So you’re seeing more multi-laser systems. You’re seeing generally more open systems, in terms of parameter control and material use. And you’re seeing larger format systems. So there are quite a few new trends SLM was actually instrumental in bringing to market. Now the question is, can we maintain our position with these technologies, now that more of our competitors have, let’s say, multi-laser systems?

TRUMPF Laser, Farsoon, and potentially DMG Mori recently entered the metal AM market in North America. What challenges do you think they’ll have getting into the market?
There are many new entrants—some of them more mature than others—in the manufacturing space. I think in particular, very recent news with DMG Mori acquiring a controlling interest in here to date quite a small manufacturer of the technology in Germany, Realizer, is potentially indicative of a larger trend of traditional subtractive machining companies getting into the additive manufacturing space. In terms of operation efficiency, they’re going to have to take strong measures around field support, consumables, spare parts, I think everybody in the additive manufacturing/3D printing space follows the importance of those types of considerations. Groups like TRUMPF Laser and certainly DMG Mori certainly have the wherewithal to support the equipment in the field. Some of the other groups, such as Farsoon, are a little less understood, and so we’ll have to see what impacts they have. From our experience, the price of the equipment is an important consideration, but it’s usually not the end-all, be-all determining consideration. So just bringing a machine to market that’s at a significantly lower price point is not necessarily going to attract the customers we see buying this equipment today.

SLM showed its next generation midsized machine at Aerodef. What does it have to offer?
The SLM 280 2.0 was formally announced at the Form Next conference in Frankfurt last November. That was a new release of our strongest performing machine in the market, our largest selling machine by volume. And it really took everything that had always been a strength of the SLM 280 machine and made it better. Largely, the improvements were with powder handling and powder management. Eliminating some of the touches that the operator needs to make on the machine as they run the machine for multiple days. Other improvements were largely in the process chamber and the gas-flow filtration system, which is a very important element of the additive manufacturing machine. Across the board, if I look at all my competitors, a lot of the machine iterations have been focused on gas flow and filtration. And basically, it manifests itself in a higher quality product made out of the machine, a higher quality of metal.

Does it happen to open up any new markets?
I think it will eliminate some of the perceived risks around investing in additive equipment, when you see another generation of a machine that already had a very strong reputation in the market.

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