When the CEO at one of the largest metal businesses in the world calls, what would your first thoughts be?
“I thought they wanted to buy more material,” Meltio CEO Angel Llavero says. The meeting turned out to be about something on a much grander scale.
This article is part of our Executive Interview series with 3D printing industry leaders.
The Prince of Steel
The call came in 2019 from ArcelorMittal, the multinational steel manufacturer founded by the King of Steel and, at one point, the third-richest person in the world, Lakshmi Mittal. Now run by his son, Aditya Mittal, ArcelorMittal generated $80 billion in 2022.
A 3D Systems reseller since 2007, Llavero initially dismissed the emerging desktop 3D printing sector, believing, “These are toys; they are not important,” but customers kept making requests. On buying a desktop system, his technical team confirmed his suspicions, and Llavero decided to invest ten thousand Euros in building a machine. It was not a triumph. “The technology was not very good, but it allowed us to identify whether, as a company we have the capacity [to build machines],” he says.
Geography also played a part. ArcelorMittal was already a Sicnova customer. In 2019, ArcelorMittal had one of “the best metal additive manufacturing laboratories in the world,” but they wanted a new, as yet unavailable, technology to secure the company’s future. Specifically, “robotic technology for metal additive manufacturing” that could be deployed at the scale the automotive industry requires. After these first meetings, Meltio emerged as a joint venture between Sicnova and Additec.
Then, the world changed, and the pandemic hit.
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Directed Energy Deposition
“[ArcelorMittal] introduced us to a new technology that didn’t use powder but wire metal. It was cheaper and had a density of 99.998%,” said the CEO. Meltio’s Directed Energy Deposition (DED) uses laser energy to melt metal wire, depositing and stacking weld beads to form successive layers at speed.
Llavero emphasized Meltio’s unique selling proposition, “Our technology is flexible. We can integrate it with robots or CNCs. We aim for industrialization, not just prototyping.” He envisions Meltio machines running 24/7 in factories, emphasizing volume over individual profits. “Meltio’s goal is to be an essential partner for many industries. Our technology can reduce material costs and time and improve processes. We offer a good price, ensuring industrial customers get value and can recover their investment.”
By late 2019, Meltio was ready for market but, like the rest of the world, unprepared for the global pandemic early in 2020. Despite the setbacks during the two years of the pandemic, the company managed to sell 30 machines in 2020 and 68 machines in 2021. A total of 98 machines were sold in the two years of the COVID worldwide crisis, all through video calls. Addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic, Llavero stressed the need for countries to develop manufacturing capabilities. He highlighted the flexibility offered by Meltio’s technology, allowing companies to switch production materials within minutes and reduce dependency on supply chains.
Meltio is providing solutions to different industries that need flexibility seven days a week and 24 hours a day in producing metal parts. The Spanish multinational has been able to build and give confidence to a network of more than 300 industrial customers worldwide looking to manufacture and repair 3D printed metal parts with stainless steels, titanium, nickel, and Inconel, among others.
Llavero highlighted the ongoing negotiations with some of the world’s most prominent companies across diverse sectors, from space and nuclear to automotive, aerospace, oil & gas, mining, and energy. Currently, they are talking to “a lot of companies that are testing … the best application of wire-laser Meltio technology,” Llavero said. He further revealed that by 2024, the first factory using their technology on a massive scale would be operational.”
Looking ahead, Llavero envisions a shift in the additive manufacturing landscape. He believes the industry is at an inflection point and must decide whether to remain a complementary technology or evolve into a primary industrial tool. He also predicts a move from powder to wire in metal additive manufacturing, citing the latter’s advantages. In these advantages to move to wire in Meltio metal additive manufacturing is the lowest cost, safest, and cleanest to use metal feedstock, in addition to it being available worldwide thanks to the welding industry.
Discussing scalability, Llavero emphasized the importance of creating an ecosystem in each country comprising universities, technology centers, and resellers.
Llavero emphasized the potential of additive manufacturing in revolutionizing industrial production. “All manufacturers need to develop applicability and show how different sectors use our technology for mass production, not just for toys,” he stated. The additive manufacturing world stands at the cusp of a significant transformation, with cost being a primary barrier to widespread adoption. “The potential is huge,” Llavero remarked.
Industrialization in Additive Manufacturing: A Glimpse into the Future
Delving into the transformative potential of Meltio’s technology, Llavero’s insights shed light on the broader implications of their innovations, particularly in sustainable manufacturing. The CEO emphasized the importance of targeting industries, highlighting the automotive sector as a primary beneficiary of Meltio’s technology. With ongoing projects to reduce the cycle time for injection plastic molds, the technology promises significant cost and time savings. “Automotive is an important sector for us now,” Llavero says.
Innovation in material use is another critical area. Meltio’s technology focuses on optimizing rapid deposition. Llavero mentioned, “We know how we can improve productivity greatly.” Meltio’s technology promises efficiency to industrial customers in different sectors such as automotive, oil & gas, aerospace, mining, defense, and others worldwide. Llavero confidently stated, “There is no technology in the world that has the potential for productivity and stability as Meltio.”
Drawing a comparison between traditional manufacturing processes and Meltio’s approach, Llavero pointed out the potential for massive cost savings. “With this technology, we can democratize manufacturing. The cost of producing a customized prosthetic will be equivalent to buying a standard one,” said Llavero on the potential disruption in the prosthetics industry.
According to the CEO, Meltio’s technology offers unparalleled flexibility in manufacturing. Llavero explained that their machines can be easily moved from one factory to another, allowing adaptive production based on demand.
Meltio’s Market Potential in the Manufacturing Landscape
Llavero identifies Meltio’s primary competitors as traditional manufacturing technologies, specifically casting, forging, and machining. The global volume of metal parts involving casting, forging, and machining is a staggering “$3 trillion.” Llavero believes that Meltio’s technology can make significant inroads into this market, especially given its advantages over traditional methods. When asked about the total addressable market, Llavero was optimistic. He believes that even capturing 1-2% of the market could translate to significant revenue. One of Meltio’s standout features is its commitment to sustainability. Llavero proudly stated, “Meltio uses 100% of the material.” This efficiency not only reduces waste but also cuts down on energy consumption, making the entire manufacturing process more eco-friendly.
Meltio’s technology can “reduce the material necessary” for manufacturing. For instance, reducing the weight of structural parts can lead to more efficient use of batteries in electric can lead to more efficient batteries in devices like autonomous vehicles.
Meltio’s technology promises significant efficiency improvements. Llavero notes that their method can reduce the system’s end-to-end process or time to part by “80%,” in some applications, material removal can be reduced from “50% to 70%.”
Meltio is currently focusing on machine shops and has garnered interest from significant OEMs across sectors like automotive and electronics. Llavero hints at potential large-scale projects.
Meltio’s Vision for the Future: Next-Gen Manufacturing
Meltio is focused on establishing internal protocols, quality control, and expanding its factory capacity. Llavero highlighted the company’s growth: “In the last year, 2022, we duplicate Meltio’s team and at the end of 2023 expanded to a team of more than 100 people.” Meltio is working on the “next step of the technology” with a clear aim to improve its product offerings.
In conclusion, Meltio’s CEO believes they are poised for significant growth and innovation in the coming years. With a clear vision, technological prowess, and a collaborative spirit, the company aims to redefine the manufacturing landscape.
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Featured image shows The Meltio team. Photo by Carolina Vilaplana.