Using ExOne’s systems, the start-up has developed a patented method of rapidly 3D printing sand forms that yields durable tooling, at a cost reduction of 30-50%. Having purchased the rights to Freshmade 3D’s process, ExOne now aims to scale the technology to meet the needs of its clients in the aerospace, automotive, construction and energy sectors.
“We are delighted to add Freshmade 3D’s patented process for creating durable 3D printed tooling to our portfolio,” said John Hartner, CEO of ExOne. “We plan to scale up this process for a global aerospace customer, who intends to use this tooling for composite layup of parts. This is an ideal solution for companies looking to shorten supply chains and produce tooling and final products locally.”
ExOne’s scalable growth drive
Over the last six months, ExOne has taken advantage of the increased interest shown in binder jetting thanks to Desktop Metal’s IPO, to address new clients and achieve 11% annual growth. Earlier this year, for instance, the firm was contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense to create a portable 3D printing factory, after installing an Innovent+ machine for service bureau FreeFORM Technologies.
On the hardware front, ExOne has also been on the front foot this year, working with Rapidia to integrate ‘two-step technology’ into its new Metal Designlab and X1F furnace systems. Additionally, the firm has continued to build on its large-format portfolio, unveiling an updated 800 x 500 x 400mm version of its X1 160Pro system, which is set for a 2022 release.
In the shorter term, the company has sought to collaborate closely with industry partners, as a means of expediting the R&D of upgrades to its existing technologies. For example, ExOne has licensed a novel binder jetting process from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and worked with Ford to make a “breakthrough” in 3D printing aluminum.
However, with its acquisition of Freshmade 3D’s assets, ExOne is now taking a more forward approach, by directly purchasing the technology to ensure exclusive access. The firm’s aggressive stance can somewhat be explained by the AMClad process’ broad potential tooling applications, which include vacuum forming, compression molding, urethane casting, sheet metal stamping and more.
Freshmade’s ‘AMClad’ technology
Founded in 2016 as part of the Youngstown Business Incubator project, and backed initially by America Makes, Freshmade 3D has spent the last four years honing its AMClad process. The firm’s novel approach essentially leverages the speed and scale of ExOne’s sand 3D printers, to create complex parts without hard tooling, directly from a CAD model.
Once printed, the resulting products are then transformed into robust, functional tools and prototypes using a unique process that simultaneously infiltrates and coats their outer shape. In the past, the technology has been used to develop strong-yet-smooth EPC materials, and within architectural 3D printing, but following its acquisition it’s now expected to be applied as a means of creating large industrial tooling.
ExOne anticipates that using AMClad 3D printing, it could be possible to wipe months off tooling R&D times, while making it 50% cheaper to produce. In fact, the firm has been developing tooling for its industrial systems since 2014, but now believes that Freshmade 3D’s approach could broaden the appeal of sand instruments elsewhere.
“We launched AMClad with the idea of using sand 3D printing technology to deliver hard tooling faster and with more design freedom,” added Rich Wetzel, Co-Founder of Freshmade 3D. “ExOne is the best company to accelerate this technology, as we scale up for customers who’ve decided to leverage our solution to meet production goals faster.”
3D printing’s binder jetting rivalry
Although ExOne has significantly expanded its portfolio over the last year, the firm still faces stiff competition from its binder jetting rivals. Since going public last year, Desktop Metal has raised $580 million in funding, allowing it to build on its offering as well, notably including the development of a new sinterable aluminum powder with Uniformity Labs.
Fresh investment in the company has also allowed it to expand into the DLP 3D printing market, via the $300 million acquisition of EnvisionTEC. Another of ExOne’s competitors, voxeljet, has similarly reported reasons for financial optimism, including a backlog of nine 3D printer orders totalling some €6.8 million heading into FY 2021.
Elsewhere, GE Additive continues to grow its Binder Jet Beta Partner Program, inviting global engineering group Sandvik onto the scheme in October 2020. Within the project, Sandvik has agreed to work closely with GE Additive to become a certified powder supplier for its upcoming H2 Binder Jet platform, which is set to launch later this year.
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Featured image shows an AMClad vacuum forming tool. Photo via ExOne.