“It is already clear that the factories of the future will have 3D printers working alongside milling machines, presses, foundries and plastic injection molding equipment in the business of making things.” The Economist, February 2011.
ExOne has been involved in additive manufacturing (AM) since 2005, pioneering much of the process and equipment required for industrial applications. Working with clients that include BMW, Sikorsky, Caterpillar and Ford, the company management is focused on facilitating what is being called “the shift from analog to digital manufacturing,” or the change from traditional CNC type manufacturing to newer additive manufacturing. The company develops the production processes that help create new concepts – designs, prototypes and production parts.
One of the concepts ExOne focuses on is the idea that AM systems can be integrated into existing plant operations, working side‐by-side with traditional manufacturing processes. The manufacturing process starts with a CAD file that conveys information about how the finished product is supposed to look. The CAD file is then sent to a specialized printer where the product is created by the repeated laying of finely powdered material (including sand, metal and glass) and binder to gradually build the finished product.
Materials are standard foundry materials. The machines have capabilities to print in silica sand, ceramics, stainless steel, bronze, and glass. Engineers are in varying stages of qualifying additional industrial materials for printing, including titanium, tungsten carbide, aluminum and magnesium. ExOne machines offer the largest build sizes available in sand and metal.
Design changes can be handled easily by simply changing the CAD model and reprinting. Equally important, multiple variations of the same product can be made simultaneously, with no additional costs.
ExOne has focused on industrial application, developing tools and machines capable of building not only prototypes but component parts as well. It’s AM machines work in the aerospace industry to produce complex gear cases and covers, fuel tanks, transmission housings, components requiring draft-free walls, lightweight engine parts, structural hinges, impellers and blades. Because of ExOne machines’ build-size capabilities, large parts can be built more easily than with traditional manufacturing methods where assembly is often required. Aerospace customers, for example, value the ability to create spare parts for legacy systems, such as in the defense sector, where many replacement parts no longer exist.
In the automotive industry, these systems manufacture engine components, such as cylinder heads, intake manifolds and engine blocks. Because of the additive nature of the AM/3D printing process, designers can create innovative engines for passenger cars and race engines during the development cycle. Design changes for prototype engines can be made rapidly and efficiently – within days a designer can run full tests on an actual casting. Mold and core segments can be integrated, reducing casting preparation time and improving casting performance.
Regardless of size or complexity, for customers in the energy, oil, gas and pump industry, additive manufacturing processes print entire mold packages or function as part of a “hybrid” approach to print just the cores – the cope and drag are produced conventionally, and the printed cores are placed into the mold package. This “hybrid” approach is used when the cores are complex, eliminating the need for a core box. By creating these types of molds and cores through an additive process, ExOne eliminates the time and cost to produce tooling when compared to traditional manufacturing processes. In addition, the parts often have improved impeller core accuracy, superior blade registration, better hydraulic performance and ease of dynamic balance.
ExOne’s additive manufacturing processes are also used to create prosthetics, which require easily adaptable design modifications and iterations. Additive manufacturing not only provides an adaptive platform for meeting the diverse geometric needs of damage to the human body, but also is able to generate porosity of the proper configurations for tissue in growth, all of which reduce rejection rates.