3D-printer technology based on standard aluminium wire as feedstock and smart printhead
- Award-winning technology
- Raised > 1 million euro’s in 2021
- Reduced manufacturing lead times
- Easy and affordable operation
- Cost-effective and environment friendly
In a nutshell
The ambition to find an economically friendly and ecological solution for industrial production, led ValCUN to fundamentally change the 3D-printing process as a whole. They developed a disruptive technology for 3D-printing based on standard aluminium wire as feedstock and a printhead, both of which are perfectly adjusted to the objective of working efficiently while keeping production costs as low as possible. Comate co-created the hardware product supporting this technology.
The market of metal parts
A complete redefinition of traditional metal AM technology was an obvious but not evident step: coming up with a new technology is prone to sceptism, making it hard to get adopted by the market. The disruptive technology that ValCUN came up with, made it possible to cut costs tremendously; the key to making industrialisation feasible which is the upcoming trend in plastic AM. But before we’re going too deep into costs, it is a good idea to think about the existing market this new technology would have to keep up with.
The highest finish with 3D-printing using metal is achieved using powder bed 3D-printing technologies. Downfalls to this technology are firstly that the production environment of the 3D-printer needs to be inert at all times; secondly that the material costs of this powder are very high; thirdly that the laser used in the machine comes at a high price and safety measures; and finally that it takes a lot of time to finish one part, which all leads to major OPEX costs.
Two of the main alternative technologies to build metal parts are pouring metal in moulds or 3D-printing with a mix of plastic and metal so that when finished the plastic is melted away, keeping the metal form as final product after sintering. However, these kind of technologies come with a lot of irregularities and limitations, making them unsuitable for mass production especially when it comes to aluminium which is the initial focus of ValCUN.
Furthermore, a lot of industrial applications do not require high-definition prints that can be made with technologies such as powder bed. In fact, industrial parties are looking for the optimal economic way to produce parts which is usually a hybrid way of manufacturing. For example, a more robust but fast near net shape with specific finishing processes afterwards. Nearly no existing part is produced in a single step. After all, ValCUN came up with a new technology with initial focus on aluminium alloys, not to achieve high definition print quality, but to effectively allow the generation of added value of AM in mass produced parts, using a fast and economic approach.
The existing idea was to start from aluminium welding wire to then come to the same kind of process as 3D-printers that work with plastic. On the upper side, the base material is extracted into the 3D-printer and on the underside starts building something, wasting no base material whatsoever during this process. Of course, during the development of this technology, ValCUN came onto many challenges.
To counter the challenges of this disruptive technology, ValCUN was in need of a collaboration with an organisation that could come up with a new design for a printhead, compatible with their technology.
A party with great expertise in mechanical engineering and design was what they were looking for. That is how Comate came in the picture. Our engineers and designers can build hardware from scratch and iterate on existing concepts. Furthermore, they found Comate to be a match as they were very ‘startup-minded’ what made the difference for them to shake hands with us.
One of the main goals? To cut CAPEX costs of 3D-printing devices to a minimum. A first difficulty was making sure every millimetre of aluminium wire that is going in, is coming out, in order to obtain full and reliable extrusion rates.
Secondly, the melting process within the printhead needed perfect temperature control - so that on the one hand, at the upper side of the printhead, the incoming wire jams the system - and on the other hand, on the bottom of the printhead, the material isn’t too cold so that the printed materials wouldn’t fuse together and come loose. Finding the right balance in this process took a lot of trials, but in the end it all came together.