The following is an excerpt from an article published in the November 2022 Vacuum issue of Heat Treat Today, which gathered industry players to discuss how the expanding use of additive manufacturing and 3D printing technologies is accelerating change in manufacturing, particularly downstream operations and processing equipment.
What changes have you made to accommodate the AM/3D printing marketplace?
Nitrex Vacuum Furnaces, through its G-M Enterprises acquisition, has moved heavily into additive manufacturing via large production MIM furnaces, which are able to both remove large amounts of powder binders and sinter the parts in the same process. We are in the process of installing and/or starting up five furnaces for these markets, and we have recently employed even more advanced concepts on high volume wax removal. A further trend is on higher value materials, like nickel and cobalt alloys and titanium, necessitating diffusion vacuum levels for processing. Nitrex Vacuum has had this experience already for many years, so moving to smaller scale 3D designs comes with years of experience.
How might your products and/or services change to accommodate this marketplace?
Smaller units are a trend to keep an eye on. We have over a decade of learning from the large units we offer, and this will allow us to compete in these lower volume markets (i.e., 3D) via our proven expertise. Several facts/ideas that we are keeping top of mind are:
- Large potential in the future (whole new market starting to evolve)
- Redesign the product to meet the new needs
- Good for rapid prototyping and quick low volume parts
Furnaces need to be available with fast delivery 3D printing is finding a tremendous niche in fast part production, sourced internally, or sourced quickly. These parts may cost more per piece, but having them fast is often more important, and 3D offers this ability to cut weeks or months off supply chain sourcing.
Share how 3D printing or AM products/services help heat treaters.
The AM sector is still in growth mode. How we help is to give a full-service solution to those customers who want to really increase their volume yet use vacuum in the process. Vacuum helps to transport the binder vapors away from the parts and into the traps for removal. Full binder removal adds to the quality of the parts, as does vacuum sintering of the final parts. We have supplied a few systems over the years with higher, diffusion vacuum levels. As powder materials evolve to higher value materials, there is more interest in diffusion vacuum, and we recently supplied such a system.
What do readers need to know about AM/3D to make decisions today?
Vacuum is the proper way to debind and sinter. Additionally, 3D printing started slow and there were many technologies evolving. Now, it has started to really grow, and the need for smaller furnaces that can offer the same quality as MIM parts produced in high volumes will be a need for 3D part makers, in medium to low volume parts. This may involve furnaces for sinter only, debind and sinter, or even sinter and heat treat. We can see the need to both sinter 3D parts in a small furnace and also heat treat them with special added processes and surface treatments.
To access the full article, click here.