3D Printing Service ProvidersAdditive Manufacturing AutomationExecutive Interviews

ELITE Additive unveils vision for achieving fully automated AM production today

An exclusive interview with founder and CEO Mike Block

ELITE Additive LLC was founded in November 2017 as a parts provider with a vision for manufacturing.  Current CEO Mike Block had spent nine years as a senior engineer at Stratasys and decided to start a company that would provide new, impactful solutions to this industry.  Five months later, John Oney, who also boasts a lengthy experience in both AM and production automation, joined sharing the vision for leading the AM industry into mainstream manufacturing.

ELITE Additive
Mike Block, CEO at ELITE Additive

John and Mike had the opportunity to work side by side at Stratasys. Oney noticed that conventional finishing and production principles were missing in the industry.  With that, he was given the opportunity to develop mass finishing techniques that were tailored specifically to Stratasys’ trademark fused deposition technology (FDM).  Working with Block’s support on the front end of the process and proper print parameters, Mr. Oney’s was quite successful in his developments but the program was eventually shut down.

Wite ELITE Additive, Oney and Block put these concepts back to work and approached mass part finishing experts at Hammond Roto Finishing. The cooperation and results led to an initial sale agreement. From that point on ELITE Additive has shifted its focus from on-demand part production to a mission for leading the industry into mainstream manufacturing.  The company today stands out as a one-of-a-kind AM service. “We are not reinventing the wheel,” says Block. “We are teaming up with companies that are highly specialized in their area of expertise.  With our highly technical sales team and focus, we produce repeatable results and production processes not seen elsewhere.  We now, stand out from any normal parts provider, in that we have synergistic relationships to support parts printing and as well as manufacturing and production automation capabilities.”

ELITE Additive’s mission remains that of facilitating the adoption of production automation technologies by leveraging the experience and the ability to supply the necessary equipment, consumables, and technical consulting services.  “This will allow our clients to bring products to market faster through a whole new realm of technological advancements – Block continues. ” Our vision is the evolution of part manufacturing utilizing our solutions to streamline production needs through challenging and pushing the boundaries of Additive Manufacturing.  We believe that what has been stopping the industry from advancing past jigs & fixtures, is the need to implement proven solutions such as the ones we propose.”

3dpbm: We agree that the AM industry needs valid solutions for mass finishing and automation. Can you explain specifically what ELITE Additive’s solutions consist in?

ELITE Additive
John Oney is in charge of implementing mass finishing automation at ELITE Additive.

Mike Block: “Over the last 20 plus years many companies have attempted to develop technologies for Additive Manufacturing in support removal and surface finishing. Most of these companies have no experience in manufacturing, the materials, application fit, process development, and atmosphere created within the process for successful design or engineering needs within the systems or technology. What has advanced conventional manufacturing, is companies or alliances coming together bringing their expertise creating lean processes for customer value in manufacturing.  Our mass finishing consists of vibratory bowls and tubs for higher part volume.  Desired finishes of those parts can be done within one to two hours. This promotes consistent repeatable results over manual methods implemented by several other manufacturers and companies using additive manufacturing for part production.  Depending on the application, grinding wheels, buffer wheels or custom finishing methods can be tailored to apply to the part geometry and finishing needs. This can also include part handling by robotics, conveyor belt or in-cell setups of all these in one process.2

3dpbm: Which processes do you automate and how do you automate the workflow?

MB: We focus on support structure removal in all technologies with complete automation. With DMLS/DMLM processes for metals, we can implement robot automation in utilizing cutting tools, grinders, waterjet, and internal polishing technologies when needed, within an automation cell. With FDM for polymers we can implement soluble support removal, part finishing (paint ready or injection molded surfaces). With SLS of polymers, automation focuses on part removal and powder containment for recycling. With the other polymer powder bed fusion process y HP, MJF, we also automate powder removal and containment. In addition, we apply surface finishing and mechanical treatment to all technologies with completely automated systems. These can ensure surface finishing for required RA (roughness average), paint ready, injection molded or mechanical treatment to improve part or surface material integrity, a combination of robotic, vibratory, high energy, and custom designed or engineered systems specifically per part or process needs.”

3dpbm: Which AM technologies – among those you offer today or expect to offer in the near future – do you see as best fit to fuel the future of AM for final parts production?

MB: “Today we offer all seven major 3D printing technologies through our ELITE Manufacturing division. This is our division offering 3D printing of parts to our clients.  We see pretty much all technologies as capable of addressing the demand for higher volumes. Throughput capailities depend primarily on the number of systems involved for each specific process scenario. From our experience and knowledge of current trends, binder jetting, laser sintering, and FDM technologies – thus including both metals and polymer capabilities – can support higher volumes thorugh an accurate and process-specific strategy.

3dpbm: How many parts are you producing yearly today by AM?  

MB: “Our ELITE Manufacturing division produces one-offs to low volume runs for our clients.  That is overflow work, as well as initial prototypes.  The amount depends on per project basis.  ELITE was started in November and is still ramping up its part printing volume. We expect the increase in printing and client base to grow by 65% in the near term future. Within 5 years we expect that ELITE Additive will be the go-to source for mass finishing and production automation technologies along with additional services tailored to additive manufacturing.”

ELITE Additive
A “house-style” enclosure. ELITE Additive believes that these automation cells will play a huge part in automation for AM of metals.

3dpbm: Which parts/applications/industrial segments do you think will most fuel your growth over the next five years? 

MB: “We are currently mostly seeing parts demand tailored to the automation, industrial, medical, and consumer goods.  We believe, aero, auto, consumer, industrial and medical will mostly fuel our growth in the years to come. Today most of our clients include manufacturers in all these segments and some in the consumer product business. ELITE Additive is seeing tremendous growth in working with part manufacturers looking to leverage additive manufacturing in-house for part production, these also include printer OEM companies and their partners.”

3dpbm: Which are the biggest challenges that AM needs to overcome?

MB: “The industry needs to change the mentality from just being able to do prototypes, jigs & fixtures and low volume production, to implementing conventional principles to support higher volume end-use production.  Also, OEM’s need to properly train workforce and users on the technology, materials, and applications.”

ELITE Additive3dpbm: And which are the biggest challenges you encounter at Elite Additive today?

MB: “Working with companies to educate and get them to understand that when our solutions are implemented they’re able to leverage additive manufacturing beyond just jigs and fixtures.  This isn’t necessarily a challenge, just the effort required in helping others gain this awareness.”

 

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Davide Sher

Over the last decade Davide has built up extensive experience as both a technology journalist and communications consultant. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he received his undergraduate degree from SUNY Stony Brook. He is a senior analyst for US-based firm SmarTech Publishing focusing on the additive manufacturing industry. He founded London-based 3D Printing Business Media Ltd. which specialises in media and communications services for the 3DP and AM industry, through which he runs 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies related to 3DP, as well as two editorial websites, 3D Printing Media Network and Il Replicatore.

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