Though it may best be known for the Kiwi bird, Lord of the Rings and its inspirational Prime Minister, New Zealand has another claim to fame in the additive world: it is home to the largest independent metal 3D printing service in the Southern Hemisphere: RAM3D. Founded in 2008, the Tauranga-based company has had an interesting journey over the past decade, partaking in metal AM’s transition from a one-off custom prototyping solution to an industrial production process.
This journey in itself is interesting, as RAM3D played a vital role in the evangelization of metal 3D printing in its part of the world—a role that many service providers have played (as we’ll see in this month’s AM Focus). In short, 3D printing metal parts for customers was only part of its job in its earlier years, it also had to focus on raising awareness of AM, educating on DfAM and facilitating the shift from prototyping to production.
“In our very early days the perception of 3D metal printing really was that it was just for one-off, custom part prototyping,” explained Gilly Hawker, RAM3D Marketing Manager. “Its real benefits, in terms of improved part functionality, part integration, weight reduction, cost effectiveness and so on, just weren’t widely recognized. We did have to play our part in improving general market awareness and helping to rectify any misconceptions.”
One of the big milestones in the company’s evolution has been its partnership with Renishaw, which began in 2014, when the UK-based metal AM company supplied its newest system to RAM3D. At the time, the machine provided the flexibility and openness that RAM3D was looking for, as it had the skills to optimize the AM process for its customers’ applications.
“We had lots of ideas of our own on optimizing our manufacturing process, and this machine gave us the freedom that we needed to implement them,” said Warwick Downing, CEO and co-founder of RAM3D. “If we wanted to change a parameter, to adjust it to more closely suit a particular part, then we could.”
Today, RAM3D not only offers a metal prototyping service, it is also capable of volume production. This is thanks to seven metal 3D printing systems—six of which are from Renishaw. The company plans to scale up its business even more, installing another three or four Renishaw systems by the new year. The service provider works with a range of materials, including stainless steel 15-5ph, stainless steel 316, Inconel 718 and titanium 64. It is also exploring the printing of maraging tool steel.
“Globally speaking, I think the metal 3D printing sector is at a bit of a tipping point right now, and it’s certainly only going to grow in importance and influence,” concluded Downing. “It is no longer a ‘new technology’, it’s here and now. More and more innovative businesses are coming to realize that even for the most mature of product types, metal additive manufacturing provides an opportunity to inject new life, by overcoming the design constraints of other manufacturing processes. So with some degree of certainty I’d say that metal 3D printing is going to be pushing hard on perceived manufacturing boundaries in the coming years.”