Elisa, what is EssentiumX and why has it been launched?
Many manufacturers are considering new techniques like additive manufacturing (AM) to transform what and how things are made in order to improve the economics of manufacturing and remove supply-chain risk. However, the biggest challenge facing larger manufacturers is having the intellectual property and skills needed to make their AM vision—which are often multi-year deployment projects—a reality, and to realize the far-reaching potential of AM. This is the problem we are solving. EssentiumX is a special project development team at Essentium. This team works on the edge, advancing the next generation of 3D printers and materials to bring new ideas to life. The interdisciplinary AM scientists and engineers in the group possess the machine- and materials-development expertise to achieve the impossible. They are problem solvers who can nurture manufacturers’ projects from concept to completion to create tomorrow’s innovations using AM. EssentiumX provides manufacturers with the critical thinking, early blueprints and knowledge transfer needed to transform legacy processes and applications and create previously unimagined products using the Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSE) 3D Printing Platform.
How would you describe the Essentium HSE platform, materials and processes? What makes it different from other fused filament fabrication (FFF) printers?
The Essentium HSE 3D Printer delivers print speeds of more than 500 mm/s, five to 15x faster than competitive offerings by utilizing a non-slip, high-torque extrusion system with all linear servo motors. FFF processes rely on a heated build chamber. But the HSE 3D Printer uses a multi-modal heating method designed to heat the part, eliminating the need for manufacturers to wait for the chamber to heat up to start printing. The printer is built to transform manufacturing floors and solve the AM issues of speed, strength and scale that have held back the shift from prototyping to full-scale production in industries, including aerospace, electronics, automotive, contract manufacturing and consumer goods. In addition to introducing the HSE 3D Printer, Essentium offers a range of high-performance materials to help manufacturers realize the full potential of industrial-scale AM and deliver on its commitment to creating a global, open ecosystem that puts customers in control of their innovation.
Tell us about your work with the U.S. Air Force, and how Essentium scientists are exploring new techniques and creating new materials to solve sustainment challenges.
The EssentiumX team is currently testing and developing new materials and processes using the Essentium HSE 3D Printer for the U.S. Air Force, as part of the company’s contract to advance AM solutions for the U.S. Air Force and the National Guard Bureau (NGB). Beyond simply the production of parts through depots and service centers together, Essentium and the U.S. Air Force are looking to advance expeditionary part production at scale, which moves the point-of-production to the point-of-service. For example, this includes custom aircraft-maintenance tools that are often lost or broken and difficult to source, legacy aircraft components no longer manufactured by industry and custom support equipment to improve operational efficiencies.
The ability to 3D print customized components at the point of need is a huge advantage. It improves overall efficiency by allowing the U.S. Air Force to maintain ideal inventory levels. Without 3D printing at scale, it is necessary for the U.S. Air Force to warehouse tens of thousands of parts for aircraft at each base. With the implementation of AM, they will no longer need to accommodate many of these parts. It also allows the U.S. Air Force to reduce the time and money it once took to transport parts, thus tightening the supply chain. Finally, they can greatly speed time to parts. Instead of waiting weeks for a tool or part to arrive from a supplier, the U.S. Air Force can print parts the same day or overnight and have their aircraft return to operation quickly.
Will any of this work bring value to markets and industries beyond the military?
We believe our work with the U.S. Air Force will help industry players, including the aerospace and defense sector, to rapidly produce parts on-demand, save money, reduce waste and streamline the supply chain. Essentium is focused on accelerating industrial-scale 3D printing to play a large role in keeping supply chains flowing and factory floors moving.
Even in a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it can step in to produce quantities of supplies at scale or at least the tooling or molds to make the product to keep the assembly lines moving.
The next generation of 3D printing innovation is poised for fast adoption as companies strive to cut lead times and respond more quickly to customer needs.
I understand that you‘re actively encouraging young people—especially women—to become involved in engineering and AM. What efforts are you making, and why?
I believe we’ll see a lot more women in AM specifically and engineering in general. Before the pandemic, we hosted regular educational sessions of local schools to discuss why kids should consider becoming engineers and how they can potentially change the world in the process. I believe women make fantastic engineers because they’re naturally wired to have a high degree of curiosity and problem solving, which is really what engineering is all about.
What is next for AM? Do you really feel there should be a 3D printer on every factory floor?
I believe we’ll see at least one 3D printer on every factory floor around the globe. And it will be a tool used in everyday manufacturing, not just in specialized situations. Our printers will be useful on factory floors and become important everyday-use technologies.
What’s next for Essentium?
Manufacturing is increasingly moving toward a leaner and more agile future enabled by AM. But this change requires continuous and unrelenting innovation to be able to do things not done before, to make parts that haven’t been made before—and manufacture things that haven’t been manufactured before. This is our goal with the launch of the HSE 3D Printer, the industry’s first true dual extrusion (IDEX) machine. We believe it’s a game-changer in that it gives manufacturers the ultimate machine tool to 3D print at scale.