Materialise and Sigma Labs partner over metal AM

Metal 3D printers and the technology is starting to become more widely used

Metal heat exchanger produced by Materialise at its Bremen facility.
Metal heat exchanger produced by Materialise at its Bremen facility.

Materialise, which has developed software, services and hardware for 3D printing, has worked with Sigma Labs, which mostly develops quality assurance software for 3D printing. The two companies have combined the Materialise Control Platform and Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D sensor technology to help users identify and correct problems when 3D printing metal items.

There are a number of metal 3D printers and the technology is starting to become more widely used. However, there can be some inconsistencies in the print process that can affect the properties of the final parts. This can be a serious issue since metal 3D-printed parts tend to be used in situations that demand particular properties such as strength or chemical resistance. It means that most metal additive manufacturing is followed by a post-build inspection and quality assurance stage that adds time and cost.

The Materialise Control Platform is an embedded hardware solution that gives end-users more control over the additive manufacturing or AM process. Integrating this with the PrintRite3D sensor technology allows users to identify quality issues and intervene to correct them in real time. This should greatly improve productivity and reduce scrap rates, making it cheaper for manufacturers to use metal 3D printing in serial production.

The new platform can be retrofitted to existing 3D printers to improve manufacturing processes or offered as an add-on to new machines for metal AM. In addition to the platform, Materialise and Sigma Labs will collaborate with end-users and machine producers to refine processes for their applications. To this end, the two companies are looking for partners in various industries who are interested in expanding their use of metal AM in serial production.

Bart van der Schueren, CTO of Materialise, says this new approach eliminates a common problem for serial production of metal 3D printing, noting: “The platform is open and flexible allowing manufacturers to take control of their specific processes to fit their unique applications. This makes it possible for customers to leverage their expertise and truly take advantage of the customisation and localisation benefits that AM provides.”

Mark Ruport, president and CEO of Sigma Labs, added: “I am very pleased with our long relationship with Materialise and the close collaboration between our engineering teams. We believe the combination of the Materialise Control Platform with Sigma’s real-time melt pool monitoring, and analytics software has created a significant breakthrough in the additive manufacturing industry. I look forward to future opportunities to collaborate and find ways to continue to improve the quality and consistency of 3D metal printing as more companies go into production in the coming years.”

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

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