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Additive Companies Run Production Parts

Some customers understand the inherent value of manufacturing using additive fabrication technologies - the flexibility of tool-less production, the freedom of impossible geometries, the reduction of manufacturing waste.  Others don't; Curt Taylor, president of Rapid Quality Manufacturing (RQM), says its not unusual for a company to issue his company an RFQ for its standard CNC part prints.  "We jokingly call it customers that get it and customers that don't," he says.

Increasingly, more and more customers are getting it.  Four years ago, RQM didn't exist.  Today the Ohio company is a leader in a new breed of enterprises that

EOSINT M 270 DMLS Machine
The EOSINT M 270 DMLS machine laser sinters powdered metal in 20 micron layers

is dedicated solely to production manufacturing using solid freeform fabrication technologies.  Exclusively using the EOS direct metal laser sintering technology (DMLS), RQM is running batches as high as 5,000 parts, says Taylor.

Customers that get it know that they'll need to redesign their parts to reap the advantages of rapid manufacturing.  Due to the removal of conventional machining or casting limitations, parts in assemblies can often be consolidated.  Taylor recalls one customer who was able to reduce a 12-part assembly down to seven pieces.  Manufacturers must also optimize their designs to account for the part's build process.

Customers that get it know that, so far, due to the expense (a DMLS machine costs $600,000 USD and up), it only make sense to rapid manufacture certain high-value parts or assemblies.  In metal manufacturing, these have mostly been biocompatible medical and dental implants, and aerospace components.  In January, RQM announced a partnership with 3M ESPE for the production of customized cobalt chromium dental copings and bridges.

Customers that get it know that they have to be flexible and patient enough to develop new standards.  As Taylor puts it: "Nothing is really new.  The only challenge: everything is new."  The same parts are being made from the same base materials, but the process is totally different.  

"The key hurdle is really validating the process to control your quality with and between machines and from one producer to another," says Taylor.  This means validating raw materials and finished products.  For its powder metal raw material, RQM has developed analyzing procedures.  For validating sample coupons and finished products against ASTM standards and material specification sheets, RQM uses a MTS Landmark Test System.  The Landmark does static and dynamic testing, including durability, tension, compression, fatigue crack growth, and fracture toughness.  RQM is also working toward an AS9100 Aerospace Certification and ISO 13485 certification for medical devices.          

"The challenging part is meeting customer internal requirements that they believe give them a competitive advantage," Taylor says.  These include things like unique facility security requirements, proprietary material quality issues, and how to define special processes.  Further complicating matters is when RQM has to work with customers in Europe.  "There are different expectations and different requirements based on different standards around the world," says Taylor.

To surmount these and other challenges, RQM is fortunate to have a parent company to lean on.  Morris Technologies, Inc. (MTI) is located about 10 miles away, and is dedicated to prototype and short-run applications.  Founded in 1994, MTI worked with EOS to refine the German manufacturers' DMLS machines.  Today, MTI has five DMLS machines; RQM has three.  In July, MTI will take delivery of its first EOSINT M 270 system to laser sinter titanium.  By the end of the year, Taylor hopes to have one at RQM too.    

Taylor likes the DMLS technology because of its dimensional accuracy on small to medium-size parts, along with a good general surface finish.  But he's looking at other technologies as well.  "To be a manufacturing center of excellence, we'll have all of the above in the future," he says.  "Eventually, I'll probably have an Arcam [electron beam melting] machine.  But right now, if I had five different technologies, I'd have five different processes to validate for my customers."


Select Equipment Suppliers for Metal Direct Digital Manufacturing:

Arcam - Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Concept Laser - LaserCUSING

EOS - Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)

MCP Systems - Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

Optomec - Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS)


Select Service Providers for Metal Direct Digital Manufacturing:


CalRAM (California) - EBM

Central University of Technology (South Africa) - DMLS

CMRDI (Egypt) - LaserCUSING

CRP Technology (Italy) - EBM & SLM

Design Dynamics International (Colorado) - EBM

Directed MFG, a division of Forecast 3D (Texas) - SLS & DMLS

Fruth Innovative Technologien (Germany) - DMLS & EBM

GPI Prototype & Manufacturing Services (Illinois) - DMLS

GROWit (California) - DMLS & EBM

HARBEC Plastics (New York) - DMLS

Initial (France) - DMLS

LayerWise (Belgium) - SLM

Linear Mold & Engineering (Michigan) - DMLS

Materials Solutions (UK) - DMLS

Medical Modeling (Colorado) - EBM

Melotte (Belgium) - EBM & SLM

Metaltec Innovations, a div. of ProMetal, an Ex One Company (Pennsylvania) - 3DP

Morris Technologies (Ohio) - DMLS

MTT Technologies Group (UK & Tennesseee) - SLM

P.H. Polyplast (India) - DMLS

Protocam (Pennsylvania) - SLS

Protocast (Italy) - EBM & SLM

ProtoService (Italy) - DMLS

Rapid Quality Manufacturing (Ohio) - DMLS

Riviplast (Italy) - DMLS

Synergeering Group (Michigan) - EBM

Vaupell (Washington) - DMLS

XinFuMind (China) - EBM 

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