Manufacturing Engineering: For those unfamiliar with your 3D printing technology, please provide a brief overview.
Ben Arnold: What makes Fortify unique is our ability to introduce functional additives into photopolymers to open new levels, and new vectors, of material performance. Our printers leverage two proprietary hardware modules—there’s CKM (Continuous Kinetic Mixing), which allows for heavily filled photopolymers to print without aggregations and sedimentation of the fillers, and Fluxprint, a magnetic field applied to orient fibers and optimize alignment for strength, stiffness, and other properties.
ME: A number of other 3D printer manufacturers advertise their ability to produce carbon fiber and additive-filled components. What makes Fortify parts different?
Arnold: Other 3D printers that employ fiber are thermoplastic-based and have no ability to control fiber orientation. By starting with a liquid photopolymer, Fortify can better disperse additives and control fiber orientation prior to curing. The photopolymer approach also allows for thinner walls, finer features, and is more scalable to production.
ME: Your website states that Fortify is pursuing opportunities in the prototype and low-volume mold tooling market, yet aluminum molds are an established alternative in this space. Why switch?
Arnold: Aluminum tools are a great option vs. steel, but they still require CNC machining, which requires time, programming, and a skilled operator. We typically hear about lead times of four to six weeks on aluminum tooling and costs of $4,000-$6,000. Our 3D-printed tools can be ready to go on a plastic injection molding press in four to six days for $400-$600. The time and money gap are significant when you only need a few hundred parts or less.
ME: Mold inserts are important, but what about other types of production tooling, such as jigs and fixtures? Is Fortify suitable for these applications as well?
Arnold: The key in other tooling applications is to find a space where our materials provide extra value beyond other printers. One area of interest is ESD-safe (electrostatic discharge) materials, which are needed in electronics assembly operations. This is a good fit because additives are needed to meet the electrical requirements.
ME: What makes Fortify a “digital manufacturing company” as opposed to just one more provider of 3D printing technology in a constantly expanding sea of such providers?
Arnold: As we moved beyond the tooling applications, Fortify focused on identifying a set of true end part manufacturing applications where our technology can add value.
ME: To a layperson, your Fluxprint process appears quite complex. Does it complicate the build or build prep process in any way?
Arnold: That’s a good point! In some cases, the ability to control fiber orientation does require an extra programming step to tell the printer exactly what to do. These are mostly the end use part cases, where this advanced programming gets leveraged over thousands of parts. In those cases, the investment of time is well worth it. In other cases—like mold tooling—we have found that using a pre-designed pattern of orientation is adequate for the job. This requires no additional programming or input from the user.
ME: You advertise part strength 50 to 100 times greater than competing processes, but what do users sacrifice to achieve this benefit? Speed? Accuracy? Cost?
Arnold: The trade-offs needed to achieve this level of strength can include cost and speed (i.e., overall economics) as well as other material properties. For instance, if the goal is to make a material very stiff, you may sacrifice some impact strength. They key for us at Fortify is to focus on the applications where the process capabilities and economics are a fit.
ME: Taking the previous question a bit further, what is Fortify not good at?Arnold: We are not as good as some other platforms at being “all purpose” and able to run 10+ materials with super-fast changeover time. This is another reason why we focus on application spaces where a step change in performance is really needed to get good business results.
ME: Yours is a new company and you just recently began shipping FLUX ONE printers. What success stories can you share?
Arnold: Today, our success stories are tied to the injection molding use case. We have several case studies on our website that demonstrate this. Many of our lead customers prefer to remain anonymous, as their work is confidential. We will continue to share successes and case studies with customers open to telling their stories.
ME: Your first commercial printer introduces two new technologies. What’s next for Fortify?
Arnold: There is a lot of open space for us to work with the current platform and new material combinations. Opening up new material space is our number one priority. The platform will have opportunity to scale in size in the future but for now, materials are really the key to our growth.
Glasgow, Scotland-based Howco, a global distributor of bar, tube, and “bespoke metal products” for the oil and gas industry, has purchased the first piece of metal AM equipment for its Houston facility. The SLM 500 system from SLM Solutions features a 500 x 280 x 365 mm build chamber and four overlapping lasers with a total power rating of 1,600 W. The machine is said to increase build rates by 90 percent over twin-laser configurations, and is intended to produce complex components with maximum density and high surface quality.
Opened in late 2019, Sandvik’s new powder plant in Sandviken, Sweden has received ISO 13485:2016 medical certification for its Osprey titanium powders, now approved for use in the additive manufacturing of medical applications. The automated factory can convert titanium sponge into finished powder using advanced EIGA (electrode induction melting inert gas atomization) technology to produce consistent titanium powder with low oxygen and nitrogen levels. The production facility also includes dedicated downstream sieving, blending and packing facilities, integrated through the use of industrial robotics.
MakerBot, a subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd., has released the results from its new 3D Printing Trends Report, which includes more than 1,200 responses from professionals in the aerospace, industrial goods, military and defense, medical, and automotive industries. Key findings reveal that nearly 75 percent of respondents are planning to invest in 3D printing technology in 2021, with 50 percent planning to spend up to $100,000.
“3D printing has come a long way since the 1980s,” said MakerBot CEO Nadav Goshen. “As the technology moves from prototyping to production, we expect to see the expansion of its use and applications continue to grow at an exponential rate.”
Sintavia LLC, Hollywood, Fla., a Tier One additive manufacturer to the aerospace, defense, and space industries, has acquired two additional M400-4 quad-laser metal 3D printers from EOS. Together with an Arcam Q20+ electron beam printer from GE Additive delivered earlier this year, this brings the company’s total to 21 industrial 3D printers. “Demand for aerospace additive manufacturing is booming,” said Brian Neff, Sintavia’s CEO. “The global pandemic has turned the traditional aerospace supply chain on its head, creating real opportunities for companies like Sintavia to offer solutions to OEMs worldwide.”
Gainesville, Va.-based system integrator and 3D printing solution provider NCS Technologies Inc. (NCS) is partnering with Roboze, an industrial AM systems manufacturer that specializes in super polymers and composite materials. According to company representatives, the partnership allows NCS to address new markets where safety and reliability are paramount, such as aerospace, industrial and medical device applications. NCS Technologies is a computer designer and manufacturer, system integrator, OEM computer reseller and engineering services organization. The company provides computing and printing solutions to government agencies, the military and commercial markets.
Working with UK digital solution provider Alloyed, engineers at Honeywell Aerospace’s Bangalore, India facility recently evaluated ABD-900AM, an age-hardenable, nickel-based superalloy designed for use as a feedstock in laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) processes. The material is optimized for environmental resistance and high-temperature tensile strength, with a working temperature range up to 900°C (1,652°F) in its age-hardened state. The results indicate that ABD 900AM offers potential for high-temperature applications, and although it is not considered a replacement for CM MAR-247 ( a high-strength nickel alloy used in rotating turbine components) due to its oxidation potential, it does exhibit good mechanical properties at high temperatures when compared with many Inconels and comparable superalloys.
The ExOne Co., North Huntington, Pa., a manufacturer of industrial sand and metal 3D printers, has debuted a concept rendering of its new InnoventPro, an entry-level binder jetting system for printing metals, ceramics and composites. The new 3D printer promises to “supersize the build area” of the company’s existing Innovent+ printer, and has an upgraded printhead with “triple the print speed and an option to 3D print a new class of patented NanoFuse binders embedded with nanoparticles to improve part quality and simplify sintering.”
Nexa3D, a Ventura, Calif.-based maker of polymer production 3D printers co-founded by former 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental, recently made two announcements. The first pertains to its agreement with Siemens, whereby the technology company will help to bring Nexa3D’s AM production systems up to full Industry 4.0 preparedness. Under this collaboration, Nexa3D’s entire Quantum Laser Sintering (QLS) product line will adopt Siemens’ factory automation and edge computing technologies, with planned commercial delivery of its QLS-350 polymer production 3D printer powered by Siemens’ automation controls in the first quarter of 2021. Secondly, Nexa3D has unveiled its single-cure polymer, xCE-White, designed for producing end-use plastic parts and injection molding tools “in minutes” on the company’s NXE400 3D printer.
EU Automation, a global supplier of replacement and reconditioned parts for the automation industry, says it has added a fourth dimension to 3D printing through its use of smart polymers that are programmed to remember shapes when they are printed. This means that the final product is preprogrammed to respond to a specific stimulus without external intervention. For example, an additively-manufactured temperature sensor for a jet engine compressor inlet or a heat exchanger on a car would be able to automatically adapt to external factors such as heat, vibration or moisture. Further applications could include components for optical engineering and aerospace manufacturing, such as vibration-insensitive laser interferometers, which are critical for space-based telescope programs.
London-based additive manufacturing service provider 3DPRINTUK has completed a £1m ($1.3 million) expansion plan, becoming the first bureau in the UK to launch HP MJF 5210 printing technology. “We’ve been watching MJF mature since 2015 and have been waiting for the right moment to add it to our offerings,” said Nick Allen, the company’s CEO. “We believe the time is right to invest in MJF as it now meets the demands of our customers and their applications with the 5200 series. It is important to distinguish the investment in the 5210 system over previous systems in the original 4200 series of machines because it marks a considerable step forward with the MJF process.”
Additive Manufacturing Update is edited by Contributing Editor Kip Hanson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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