May 17, 2022

Robotic 3D printing shifts into high gear

Metal desk launched its most affordable sand 3D printer ever – the ExOne S-Max Flex – an all-new robotic sand 3D printing system that the company claims will transform the global foundry market, especially the smaller and more vulnerable foundries that make up the majority of the market.

Debuting at CastExpo in Columbus, Ohio, the S-Max Flex combines an affordable industrial robot with an end effector featuring an all-new 16-module printhead design.

Like ExOne’s market-leading high-end S-Max models, this new system also projects binder-blast sand cores and molds for metal casting. A key difference with this model is its affordability, thanks to a simplified printing strategy that includes a conventional robotic arm for motion control.

This new printer designed from the ground up is a quick result of the late 2021 acquisition of ExOne by Desktop Metal, which had also previously acquired an early proof-of-concept robotic printer in a separate transaction. The introduction of the S-Max Flex reflects Desktop Metal’s core strategy to drive widespread adoption of “additive manufacturing 2.0” through accessible, area-scale 3D printing technologies, such as binder jetting, integrated with selected, high-performance materials and targeted applications.

The S-Max Flex also takes advantage of Desktop Metal’s advanced Single Pass Jetting (SPJ) technology, which prints in an automated telescoping workbox that grows with the build. The package is very refined for its entry-level price, and Desktop Metal reports that it offers a final sand casting dimensional accuracy of +/- 0.5mm.

A foundry market lacking innovation

The S-Max Flex is entering a market that looks ready for adoption. The upper end of the foundry market has benefited from additive manufacturing for two decades, using 3D sand printers to create molds and cores for castings that reduce lead times and enable complex, consolidated geometries without traditional tooling.

However, the technology remained largely out of reach for most of the market. According to the American Foundry Society, 75% of foundry operations in the United States are small businesses. Many are operating on the fringes of survival – facing fierce global competition, industry consolidation, the move away from traditional powertrains and growing labor shortages. Their need to stay flexible and ready for a more digital future has never been stronger.

The affordable S-Max Flex is designed to help these small foundries survive and thrive into the future. “In order to revolutionize manufacturing with additive manufacturing, we need to make it accessible,” said Ric Fulop, Founder and CEO of Desktop Metal. “Our mission as a company is to drive Additive Manufacturing 2.0 on all materials, and S-Max Flex is another example of how we will achieve this goal.”

Better metal through more accessible sand printing technology

Behind Desktop Metal’s mission is a desire to help more manufacturers benefit from AM 2.0’s improved time to market, increased design flexibility, reduced waste and greater cost savings. financial resources while reducing supply chain risks.

3D printing sand molds and cores directly from CAD files allows foundries to eliminate the months-long lead times and high costs of traditional patterns and core boxes. The design freedom of additive manufacturing also allows designers to innovate with parts made with the reliable casting process – creating complex and consolidated geometries that allow for weight reduction and optimized part performance, which is not possible with traditional processes.

“We developed the system to provide a faster return on investment for foundries to produce castings of any volume without the wait and cost of traditional tooling,” said Joe Phillips, chief engineer of the S-Max Flex and vice president of engineering at Desktop Metal, where he was previously. led the development of the Production System P-1 metal binder jet printer.

“Our goal is to improve return on investment and improve ease of use,” Philips emphasized. Along with easy-to-replace printheads, the S-Max Flex will soon be compatible with Desktop Metal’s Fabricate MFG software, streamlining build preparation and making the 3D printing process even easier to adopt.

3D printing has increased sustainability in the foundry

By providing an accessible sand 3D printing solution suitable for almost any foundry, Desktop Metal and ExOne aim to bring significant efficiencies to the market.

In the foundry today, manual assembly is required to bond several traditionally shaped cores into a final shape for casting. This complex process requires a skilled workforce, a resource that is increasingly hard to find. Additionally, assembly typically results in increased scrap resulting from human error in core misalignment, while outgassing of the core and glue during molten metal pouring also introduces porosity, compromising the quality of the final part.

3D printing a basic design as a single, complex, consolidated geometry eliminates the need for assembly and all the labor, scrap, and complications that come with it. This design freedom leads to iterative and optimized cast metal parts that are closer to their direct 3D printed metal counterparts.

S-MAX Flex has ambitions outside the foundry

While Desktop Metal has big goals for the S-Max Flex, the company’s vision for this product doesn’t stop at sand or foundries. Indeed, this scalable binder jetting solution also has the potential to support printing with a variety of materials for a range of large-scale applications.

Already, S-Max systems are printing sand for resin infiltration to produce durable, fast tooling for plastic thermoforming, composite layup, and sacrificial tooling applications. Similar techniques, where shapes are powder-printed and then infiltrated, are already used for architectural restoration or design elements. Forust, another brand in the Desktop Metal portfolio, plans to use the large form factor of the S-Max Flex to recycle by-products from traditional wood waste streams into high-end designs like automotive interiors or guitars. . Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University used binder jetting technology to print reclaimed powdered concrete into street furniture as part of the search for more sustainable architectural design.

“To realize Desktop Metal’s vision of additive manufacturing 2.0, we need to make 3D printing practical in terms of speed, cost, and material availability for a wide range of applications,” Fulop said. “S-Max Flex’s binder jetting technology helps foundries stay competitive while opening the door to new material innovations as we move into a more additive future.”


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