Multi-jet fusion technology could spark a 3D printing revolution

 
February 18, 2019 7:01 am

Hillsborough-based SICAM Corp. specializes in 3D printing, prototyping, tooling, and manufacturing. Incorporated in 1990, SICAM has clients in 38 states from a variety of industries: aerospace, automotive, computer, consumer, government, industrial, medical, pharmaceutical and telecommunications. The company also now owns a multi-jet fusion machine that vice president Doug Campbell says will make 3D printing technology a more viable option than previous technologies.

Campbell said SICAM is using the machine, which it purchased for $400,000 from HP Inc., to change manufacturing. He predicts the multi-jet fusion machine will revolutionize 3D printing — or additive manufacturing — for production. Until the 3D printing equipment became cost-effective, there was no point in designing for additive manufacturing, Campbell said.

Multi-jet fusion is a powder-based technology that does not use lasers and produces strong, lightweight products. The technology is better than other 3D processes including injection molding because it is faster and less expensive, Campbell explained.

“The advantage of designing for additive manufacturing, what is going to change in manufacturing, is the concept of now you can design with more freedoms,” Campbell said. “A good example is Volkswagen who makes an assembly for the inner guts of the side mirrors of cars. It is made of 30 pieces welded together. With this technology, they can make it in one part. That is where the savings come in because now instead of making 30 parts and making tools to make 30 parts and then assembling all those parts, this equipment can make it in one part.”

In additive manufacturing materials are joined to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer. This process differs from subtractive methodologies whereby the manufacturer starts with large objects and removes pieces. Think of stamping or carving plastic, metal or wood to create new products.

Customers who are benefitting from multi-jet fusion technology include Spanish manufacturer Aurea Avionics, electronics consumer goods company Peau Productions, Italian engineering company Sigma Ingegneria, British additive manufacturer FDM Digital Solutions, EEBE e-Tech Racing from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Spain, Motor L’Escala Racing Team in Spain, European train corporation CAF, and Motus Motorcycles.

Rob Hassold, CEO and founder of Branchburg-based 3D printing company Cimquest Inc., said 3D printing started 30 years ago as a way of creating prototypes. In the beginning the materials were brittle and the process took a long time, he said.

Today Cimquest provides manufacturing training, metal and plastics 3D printing, and mold analysis. Multi-jet fusion represents the first 3D printing technology that can be economically viable for manufacturing in larger production runs, Hassold said.

Options beyond prototyping include molding and thermal forming, Hassold said.

“Assuming the material that you can print on the printer is the right material for your end use and assuming your properties are good enough off the 3D printer, it is a viable technology for manufacturing end-use parts,” Hassold said. “The question is where is that cross-point where it makes sense to use 3D printing to do that versus traditional technology.”

Until HP developed the multi-jet fusion machine, manufacturing companies could not justify spending money on 3D printing on mass quantities of production, Hassold said, citing high costs and a slow process. The HP multi-jet fusion machine is at least 30 times faster than other machines, he said.

“If you have a machine where it is going to take one hour and 20 minutes to print one gear and you need to print 10,000 gears, 3D printing is not a viable technology unless you have a dozen of these printers,” Hassold said. “However, the [HP] multi-jet fusion process is 30 or 60 times faster than traditional 3D printing. Instead of taking one hour and 20 minutes to do one gear, you can do 950 gears in less than 24 hours.”

Three-dimensional printing is a small part of New Jersey’s manufacturing industry, Hassold said, because the process has not been viable for production at scale.

Peter Sayki, vice president sales and marketing, SICAM Corp.

John Kennedy, CEO and president of the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said that 3D printing is evolving quickly, but many of the firms using the technology in New Jersey are still focused on what is called fast prototyping, which is used to create a three-dimensional model of a part or product.

Rapid prototyping can be used to test the efficiency of a part or product design before it is manufactured in larger quantities.

Other companies like SICAM have invested considerable time and money to upgrade their equipment and processes, Kennedy said. Currently, SICAM is in the minority, but that is changing.

Companies have been using 3D printing to build metal parts with a process Campbell calls “prohibitively expensive.”

SICAM offers clients a full range of rapid product development services from concept through production.

“Up to this point in time if somebody wanted to make a part, they had to design it for that technology,” Campbell said. “If it was injection molding, it puts constraints on the design engineer of what he wants to design. The advantage of 3D printing is you do not have design constrictions.”

“Now that additive manufacturing is viable, the next phase is called design for additive manufacturing,” Campbell said. “You can design stuff that you cannot make any other way.”

Pete Sayki, vice president of sales and marketing at SICAM, said the multi-jet fusion machine is better than injection-molding methods because it is more cost-effective. Injection molding is a slow process by design and it is costly.

“The multi-jet makes 100 parts in two days and the cost is way low,” Sayki said. “Multi-jet technology is a game-changing technology in our industry because it can make 100 parts fast. And you do not need the $40,000 mold.”