A few years ago I saw a presentation at a TCT event by Mike Ayre, MD of Crucible Industrial Design, who argued convincingly that the future of additive technologies — specifically for industrial applications — lies in combining 3D printing processes with traditional manufacturing techniques such as high speed milling. Mike and I discussed the implications of this after his presentation and I have kept this nugget of insight tucked away since. It resurfaced again at the end of last year when I reported on a new machine announcement that was getting a great deal of attention at Euromold — the LUMEX Avance-25. This machine, from Japanese vendor Matsuura, is billed as a single machine platform that offers metal laser sintering and high-speed milling — a “revolutionary, unique and dynamic production platform.”
I don’t dispute that billing, although I predict it will not remain unique as I think this machine points to the future.
The LUMEX Avance-25 is the culmination of a decade of research and development (R&D) by Matsuura Japan, and brings together the advantages of metal 3D printing and high speed milling, which traditionally have required a trade-off. Having both — in one machine — is a significant development and a leap forward, in my opinion. The obvious target market for this machine is large OEMs, with deep pockets, requiring highly engineered parts with tight tolerances and superior surface finish, either for the production of mold dies or final production parts in low volumes. Despite all of the hype and excitement around consumer 3D printing applications at the entry-level end of the market, OEMs are still the main drivers of R&D with high-end 3D printing processes. Metal laser sintering is one of those processes, and combined with milling capabilities — the outcomes are truly remarkable — as illustrated by the accompanying imagery.
However, the articles and posts that I have been writing recently about retail 3D printing services have got me thinking, and it occurred to me that this type of hybrid machine would truly bring a valuable service and huge range of options to the consumer, if offered and operated by a service provider with knowledge and know-how.
In the interests of anti-hype, I am stating clearly that this is not happening now, it is an idea that has come to me in recent days as an interesting and exciting opportunity for the future. I have not looked into the economics or the practicalities of it, but still, it is something to think about.