Last November, the additive manufacturing industry came together for one of the—if not the—most significant global AM events of 2019, Formnext. As a whole, the event was formidable: showcasing state-of-the-art printing technologies, materials, software and more. The ability to see all these elements of the additive industry under one roof has given us a greater understanding of where AM stands and where it is headed in 2020 and beyond.
On an individual level, companies exhibiting at Formnext found a fertile environment for showcasing their respective technologies and applications. One company, metal AM leader SLM Solutions, had an especially exciting Formnext showcase, consisting of new partnerships, end-use applications and releases. We recently spoke to SLM Solutions CEO Meddah Hadjar to take a look back at what the global AM event meant to the company and how it will influence its journey in 2020.
In the lead up to Formnext, SLM Solutions had a clear vision for what the event would be: an industry-wide stage where it could consolidate its leading position in the powder bed fusion segment. According to Hadjar, this was an overwhelming success.
“Formnext has grown rapidly to reflect how fast the industry is growing,” he says. “Thus we expected a lot of visitors and advanced conversations also reflecting the trend of users moving from business case identification and prototyping into serial production applications. Our focus was to show that we were the pioneer of metal powder bed fusion, especially in multi-laser technology, and that SLM Solutions remains the innovation leader in this realm.
“The show was a resounding success for us; As the industrialization of our multi-laser machines is key to the serial production applications users are focusing on, we had a lot of great conversations at the booth, were happy to announce several machine sales during the show, as well as partnership agreements for further development of the technology.”
At Formnext, SLM Solutions had a lot of tricks up its sleeve. At its booth, visitors found an array of case studies from various SLM clients, a live demonstration of its quad-laser SLM 500 3D printer, materials and more. Among the company’s most significant announcements, was a partnership with Divergent 3D and a parameter development agreement with Honeywell.
At Formnext, Divergent 3D, the maker of the Blade 3D printed supercar, announced its intent to purchase five SLM 3D printers for the production of hypercar components. To highlight this announcement, the partners exhibited a stunning sample piece: the front quarter-section of Divergent’s hypercar with a 3D printed chassis.
“The news from Divergent3D was well received by attendees,” Hadjar says. “Divergent3D’s mission is to replace conventional vehicle design manufacturing with a new end-to-end solution that incorporates selective laser melting to create higher performance, yet lighter, safer and lower-cost vehicle structures.
“The exhibit at the booth had been fully validated through 400,000+ km of simulated road conditions, including brake slamming while hitting a pothole scenario. That visitors to the booth could see this qualified end-use construction side-by-side with design iteration examples showing the evolution of the concept and three component examples from the assembly, shown as-built on the plates of various size SLM machines, really generated a level of excitement at the reality of serial production with selective laser melting.”
The Divergent announcement signalled something greater in the intersecting AM and automotive worlds: that powder-based metal 3D printing is a viable solution for automotive production.
As Hadjar tells us, “The Divergent 3D announcement, including the cooperation to further develop the next generation of SLM machine, signals a true turning point for automotive. Qualification and productivity have been barriers to adoption in automotive, as well as many other industries. By showcasing their qualified chassis, Divergent 3D was able to display a validated automotive application that generated excitement for future possibilities.
“The next generation machine will be the next turning-point for the industry at large, by helping to reach that productivity critical-mass point where selective laser melting is both a reliable, productive manufacturing process as well as one efficient enough to compete with traditional production technologies.”
Industrialization and productivity
Another key draw to the SLM Solutions booth at Formnext was a live demonstration of its quad-laser SLM 500 system, built for increased productivity. The exhibit showcased the company’s dedication to industrializing its laser-based technology within manufacturing.
“One of the main topics the industry is currently talking about is how to increase productivity of the machines to take that final step into serial production,” the SLM Solutions CEO explains. “SLM Solutions’ SLM 500 has been optimized for exactly this kind of customer.
“Beside the running machine and highlighting the speed of each layer printed with four 700W lasers, we had digital displays highlighting our optimized gas flow management, which is essential in keeping a clean process chamber during multi-laser builds, thus enabling consistent part quality, and our Permanent Filter Module, which cleans itself automatically and eliminates the change of filter cartridges. This improves machine uptime and reduces costs.”
As a result of the demonstration, SLM Solutions was reportedly even able to clinch repeat sales for the SLM 500 system at Formnext.
The question of industrialization is not unique to SLM Solutions. At Formnext, it became abundantly clear that the word was on everyone’s lips. This, in essence, means that AM is moving into a new stage of its evolution. For SLM Solutions, one of the key drivers of industrialization is actually quite simple: improving its machines in terms of reliability and productivity.
“Industrialization is a word that is thrown around a lot in the industry—and while we believe a lot of these comments feature similar trends, we are concentrated on increasing the reliability of our systems while, at the same time, using our multi-laser expertise to increase productivity,” Hadjar says. “In this way, metal AM will become truly competitive with traditional manufacturing processes.”
The importance of parameters
A crucial part of improving the productivity of additive manufacturing, as SLM Solutions emphasizes, is not necessarily releasing new machines but is actually tied to improving process parameters on existing technologies.
“Many users are focused on how they can print parts faster, and aside from multi-laser systems, parameters often play a key role in the equation. Being able to print in thicker layers obviously means less layers are required to finish a build, yet a user needs higher laser power and process parameters tailored to that material, layer thickness, and laser power, among other factors,” Hadjar elaborates.
“Optimizing these parameters can help users achieve real build rate increases of over 170%. At Formnext we displayed four identical thrust chambers, all in AlSi10Mg but built with different parameter sets. By printing in 90 micron layers using 700W lasers the twin-laser SLM 280 reduced the build time of the part by over 60% compared to the parameter set building at 30 micron layers and 400W laser power on the same machine.”
In its push to advance process parameters for metal additive manufacturing, SLM Solutions announced a partnership with Honeywell. Together, the companies will qualify new process parameters to unlock thicker layer printing for significantly faster build rates.
Formnext 2019 and beyond
“Our main goal was to highlight the way our customers use each of our four machine sizes in true serial production,” Hadjar tells us about Formnext 2019. “From tooling and dental components built on our SLM 125 all the way up to the front lower control arms of the Divergent 3D chassis printed on the SLM 800, our entire suite of machines provide customers with production solutions.
“Additionally, customer case studies at the booth, such as a y-connector from Etteplan, highlighted how even small individual components benefit from selective laser melting production. Over 120 of the parts are stacked onto one SLM 280 plate, achieving manufacturing cost savings while reducing weight by 50%. It’s exciting to have so many great customer examples that it’s hard to choose one—it’s a true testament to the broad industrial acceptance of selective laser melting.”
Like for many in the industry, Formnext comes at crucial time—right on the precipice of a new year. For SLM Solutions, the event provided additional momentum as it moves ahead into a new decade.
“After such a successful show we are really moving into 2020 with momentum and enthusiasm,” Hadjar concludes. “Customers are adopting our production solutions at increasing rates, and we will continue to deliver reliable systems for their current needs. Looking to the future, we will be working on further advancing the technologies highlighted as future technologies to make them available to customers as industrialized solutions that will give an entirely new perspective to the concept of productivity in metal additive manufacturing.”
This article was published in collaboration with SLM Solutions.