Bastion Cycles – Bespoke bikes, advanced manufacturing

Somewhere in the story of Bastion Cycles is a joke about how many former automotive engineers does it take to create the world’s first market-ready 3D printed bespoke bicycle? The answer is three, and the tale is even better when you learn they pooled their redundancy packages from Toyota to form a company now leading the field in advanced bike manufacturing only a few years after its launch. By Dee Rudebeck.

After the R&D specialists were handed their notice from Toyota in 2014, they sat down and nutted out a new business concept. Bastion Managing Director Ben Schultz recalls how he and his co-founders, James Woolcock and Dean McGeary, wanted to incorporate their three passions: cycling, leading-edge manufacturing and Australian-made production. All keen cyclists, it was a classic case of creating the bike they wanted to buy but which didn’t exist. Bastion empowers the rider to design their own adjustable bike that is a unique fit not only to their desired specifications and aesthetic preferences, but the physical capabilities of their own body with all its ticks and quirks.

Bastion shares the industrial warehouse it occupies in Fairfield, north-east Melbourne, with three other specialised bicycle-related companies. Schultz says they think of it as an advanced manufacturing bicycle hub because, though there are synergies between the businesses and they send each other work, they share the space because none of them could afford to be there independently otherwise. This co-operative approach is an intriguing part of their business model, and just one of the ways Bastion likes to do things differently.

When a cyclist commissions a bicycle from Bastion, they should not expect the experience they might have purchasing a bike from one of the well-known larger manufacturers. They won’t enter a flashy retail store and view scores of factory-fresh bikes, choosing a few to test-ride and deciding which one they want to take out the door with them. At Bastion, after an initial chat with Schultz or Woolcock about their requirements, they will spend the next 2-3 hours at Riderfit, one of Bastion’s companion companies at the front of the building. There, they will be put on a physiotherapist’s table to address any injuries or asymmetries they may have before having their physical data measured and recorded.

“We don’t just measure the customer’s arms, legs and torso length, then make assumptions about the bike size that will fit them,” Schultz says. “Two people who have the exact same body dimensions could need totally different bikes. That’s because of their flexibility or injury history, and asymmetries in their body that they didn’t even know they had.”

So one leg might be shorter than the other or a rider’s hip rotation might mean one leg pedals differently to the other. Schultz uses a suit-tailoring analogy: “There is custom clothing where a tailor will measure your body dimensions and then take a pattern and size it, and then there’s the full bespoke suit service where they’d cut a pattern, pin it on you and do three or four fittings and checks, where they’d get you to twist and bend to make sure it’s not bunching up anywhere – that’s the level we work at.”

Riderfit will analyse how all the customer’s data comes together while watching them pedal an adjustable bike frame in the workshop. There is then further detailed discussion about component specifications and performance preferences, but Schultz admits that it’s often not the highly advanced technical manufacturing options that get some clients excited.

“The majority of the discussion is probably around the paint job – what colours and designs to choose,” he explains. “Some people like to keep it raw and let the materials shine and others paint the entire frame.”

The paint job is done once construction is completed in the back of the building at another of Bastion’s companion companies: Bikes by Steve.

Bastion aims to arm the customer with as much information as possible to ‘precision craft’ their bike. Based on their consultation, Bastion provides them with a four-page report that contains graphical representation of how the bike will handle, comparing it to other bikes on the market or bikes they’ve owned before to illustrate how a certain geometry or spec will make the new bike quicker or more agile, for example.

The tailoring service is not all that’s unique, Schultz adds: “We were the first company in the world to bring a fully international-standards tested, commercially available, 3D printed bicycle to market. People had used the technology in bikes before but purely at a design concept or university-study level. Although the price point is high, it’s been received by the market. There is literally no one else in the world making bikes the way we make them.”

Bastion uses carbon fibre tubes to make the bike frame, but with titanium joints created using 3D printing technology that enables a lattice-like internal honeycomb structure, allowing strength while minimising weight. Bastion’s printer, a Renishaw AM250, is kept busy, running 24 hours a day, six days a week. It uses aerospace grade Ti6Al4V titanium alloy powder and a high-powered precision laser to weld layer on top of layer in a pattern governed by a CAD design to build three-dimensional shapes.

“The advantage of titanium is that it delivers a much nicer ride comfort and quality,” says Schultz. “So there’s a performance benefit for no weight increase. It’s got to do with the level of damping and compliance in the material.”

This is where the team’s automotive backgrounds come to the fore: “When you are in a car or a bike, there is road noise. It’s a very small but high-frequency vibration as the tyres are rolling over the rocks in the asphalt. Titanium is much better than carbon fibre at isolating and smoothing out that vibration or lessening it.”

The science of smooth cycling

So why does smoothness relate to feeling fresher at the end of a ride?

“It’s because after you’ve been on an all-carbon fibre bike for five minutes, you don’t notice the vibration any more but your brain is still processing it,” Schultz explains. “When you’re in a car, it’s the same if you have that road or wind noise. Your brain filters it out – you can still have a conversation – but your brain is still processing it.

“It’s that constant processing of stimulus that tires people out. It’s been proven in studies in cars and aircraft. They try to minimise it so pilots don’t get tired. People in passenger seats get cranky because of this constant noise. So it translates to a bike. But we’re not Boeing or NASA; we haven’t done the peer-reviewed studies to prove it yet.”

That said, Bastion is in talks with RMIT University this year to design such a scientific study to quantify this anecdotal finding.

“I know from my experience at Toyota that it’s a very difficult thing to quantify but we’re going to try,” Schultz adds. “Subjective feedback from more than 100 customers, from ex-professionals through to beginner riders, is that Bastion bikes are smoother than their current bike. It’s definitely there, we just have to figure out how to measure it.”

For such a young company, there have been a number of milestones on the road to sustainability.

“The first sale in 2016 was pretty exciting,” says Schultz. “We had a 30% discount on the first five bikes and they sold in two days. And none of those people had seen one.”

Apart from bringing the 3D printing inhouse earlier this year, the other key decision Schultz and his co-founders made was partnering with 16 bike fitters and retailers around the world, as 70% of their business is now exports.

There are a couple of other bespoke bike makers in Australia and while Schultz is confident of Bastion’s appeal, his main concern is that this small market keeps growing for all of the manufacturers here: “What we really want is for more people to not buy a standard production bike out of China and buy something locally made and bespoke. The more people who start to make that jump, then their friends will buy them and their friends. And some of them will come to us.”

There are only hundreds of people each year who buy bespoke, but tens of thousands of people buying bikes from the big brands, whose top-of-the-line models might cost $15,000 or $16,000. Bastion bikes start at around $13,000 but most customers spend around $18,000.

“So that’s only a 10% jump to get something from us that is tailored to you,” Schultz adds. “We just need to get in front of some of those people because we don’t have the marketing budget that the big brands do. We can’t sponsor a Tour de France team when they need 200 bikes every season. We haven’t even made 200 bikes yet. We’re still only four years in, we’re still on that uptake of the early adopter curve, although sales have gone up this year.”

So what’s in the pipeline for the future? Bastion has just received a grant from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) to support development of their next model, which will be a lot more innovative – though Schultz isn’t able to elaborate more. To build the bike, they’ll have to come up with a series of new processes and technologies. It’s an exciting time at Bastion as the trio return enthusiastically to their R&D roots.

Bastion also operates a consultancy arm specialising in design for additive manufacturing and bespoke engineering solutions. This element of the business has been bolstered by the ability to print titanium parts in-house, and is already producing components for five other bike builders globally. Bastion is also producing custom high-performance parts that are used by the Australian Olympic track cycling team.

So it seems Toyota’s loss is the bespoke bicycle world’s gain.

“Yeah, I love it,” says Schultz. “I wouldn’t do anything else now. I just love it.”

He does it in family-friendly hours too, leaving at 3pm most days to pick up his child from school. Woolcock also works from home one day a week and looks after his pre-school-age daughter. The work often has to resume once the families are in bed, but nonetheless Bastion’s co-founders have built a successful business, created their dream jobs, and achieved a happy work-life balance to boot.

If only all redundancies turned out so well.

Improving the life of the line

Eckhart, a US-based leader in advanced industrial solutions, has positioned itself at the forefront of Industry 4.0 through its application of cutting-edge technologies such as additive manufacturing.

Based in Warren, Michigan, the company is committed to improving the lives of factory-floor workers through safety, reliability and efficiency in manufacturing, for industries ranging from medical devices to automotive.

“Industry 4.0 is really the ecosystem that is a smart factory,” says Andrew Storm, Eckhart’s CEO. “It takes all of the systems in a factory, ties them together to help not only those who manage the process, but also to help the employees on the factory floor become more informed on the health of the system.”

“Ninety percent of Fortune 500 manufacturing CEOs believe adopting Industry 4.0 technologies is imperative,” adds Dan Burseth, Vice-President of Eckhart. “And we build technology implementation plans with some of the largest manufacturers in the world, designing tools, equipment and automation that truly improve the life of the people tasked with running the line.”

Customised, proven additive solutions

Eckhart develops customised factory floor solutions to address the specific needs of each client, walking the floor to see exactly where ergonomics, line of site or bill of materials can be improved using autonomous guided vehicles, collaborative robotics and additive manufacturing.

“Our customers want proven solutions, durable solutions; the assembly environment is harsh,” says Bob Heath, Additive Manufacturing Applications Engineer at Eckhart. “These tools are being used 60 times an hour for an eight-hour shift, three shifts a day, six or seven days a week. With Stratasys engineering-grade materials, Nylon 12 with carbon-fibre and ULTEM 1010 resin, we are able to produce durable, lasting solutions that can hold up and withstand the rigours of an automotive environment.”

When working to streamline production for their leading industry clients, from Ford to Mercedes to Airbus, Eckhart has shown how additive manufacturing with Stratasys materials greatly improves the way things have always been done.

“Traditionally, we had to design our parts around the way we were going to manufacture them,” says Heath. “Whether it was manually machining or CNC machine, our part design was limited to our manufacturing capabilities. But with additive manufacturing, the complexities and capabilities are limitless.”

Many of Eckhart’s clients have seen great benefit from small tweaks to their processes, adopting 3D-printed jigs or fixtures for applications such as a lug nut starter, badge alignment tools and wiper alignment set fixtures.

“Pressing on badges, emblems on vehicles – these things are repetitive tasks,” Heath explains. “When we go into plants and we pick up a badge tool, and it’s heavy, it’s either above or right at that ergonomic limit for the operator to be able to pick up 60 times an hour. So we’re alleviating the repetitive injury strain on the operator.”

“We provide solutions that are not replacing operators but are making up for the operators they can’t hire, or projecting the ability of one operator so that one can be the same as five,” adds Drew Morales, Director of Business Development and Engineering Systems at Eckhart. “And additive manufacturing is one of the tools that we have to facilitate that.”

Partnering for a streamlined future

Eckhart recognises time and innovation are top priorities, and all businesses are under an extreme amount of pressure to iterate faster. Eckhart sees this across the board, from heavy truck manufacturers like Caterpillar, to medical device manufacturers such as Medtronic and Boston Scientific, to aerospace manufacturers including Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed Martin.

“We feel very strongly that 3D printing is the catalyst that allows businesses to test hypotheses much faster than they’ve ever been able to before,” concludes Storm. “Speed and customisation ultimately is empowered through the use of 3D printing.”

RAM3D ramps up production runs in metal 3D printing

Leading the way in metal 3D printing in the Southern Hemisphere, RAM3D has been involved in additive manufacturing for 10 years from its base in New Zealand.

RAM3D is a metal 3D printing facility and high-tech manufacturing company producing parts for a diverse array of industries world-wide. The technology has greatly advanced over the past five years and RAM3D has seen a shift from prototyping to include full production work. This is possibly a result of the early adopters of the technology starting to move their projects increasingly through the project stage.

The two key drivers to this transition are:

  1. Designers have recognised that the technology opens different design avenues. They can look at the areas of function and load and only place material where it is needed. This design freedom results in a highly optimised part in both functionality and cost.
  2. The cost of production by 3D printing has reduced. RAM3D operates four machines; they have been able to cover their overheads and apply the lessons they have learned over time to refine the process and ultimately bring benefits to companies having parts made.

Throughout most of the world, two of the early adopters of 3D printing technology are the high-priced aerospace and medical sectors. This has limited the growth of the industry in other sectors because of the desire for the cost of 3D parts to be more cost-effective.

In New Zealand there is limited medical and aerospace markets and RAM3D has focussed on the wider market to meet the price point to make it work. As a result, the market sectors engaged are much broader. The result is some very innovative products.

Case studies

One of these innovative products is firearm suppressors. RAM3D has been working in collaboration with Oceania Defence, an early adopter of additive manufacturing technology, to 3D print the most advanced firearms suppressors in the world. After rigorous design, research and testing with Oceania Defence, they have achieved the most desired outcome: a suppressor that is highly efficient, lightweight, compact and, most importantly, cost-effective.

RAM3D has been building drone engine parts for another company. The three-cylinder engine has a weight of 50kg and aircraft wingspan of 6m; it can fly to heights of 5,500m and has a cruise speed of 60 knots. The parts that RAM3D prints for them cannot be manufactured any other way and are printed in Inconel 718, a high-temperature alloy, requiring high precision especially where mass matters. It has printed production runs of manifolds, exhaust mufflers, collectors and more recently engine sumps.

Another innovative product is Bastion Cycles’ custom bicycle using 3D printed lugs and carbonfibre tubing. This Melbourne-based company’s titanium (Ti 6Al 4V) lugs are a great example of the technology being applied in true mass customisation. RAM3D started working with Bastion Cycles in 2015 and through collaboration on design has seen over 100 custom bikes made. RAM3D currently produces 3D printed parts for a few other bike manufacturers on the world-wide stage.

RAM3D uses a variety of advanced materials for additive manufacturing, including:

  • Titanium 64 (Ti 6AI 4V) – The most common titanium alloy, used for medical and aerospace applications. It boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio of engineering metals and is extremely corrosion-resistant.
  • Stainless Steel 15-5ph – This provides high strength, moderate corrosion resistance and good mechanical properties at temperatures up to 316°C. It is a hardenable stainless steel up to 48 HRC. It is widely used in the aerospace, chemical, petrochemical, food processing industries.
  • Stainless Steel 316 – This has excellent corrosion resistance in a wide range of media, which makes it particularly desirable for applications where exposure to salt is an issue. It is mainly used in the food sector, marine and dairy industries.
  • Inconel 718 – This is a nickel super-alloy used for high-temperature applications and is used in a variety of industries such as aerospace, chemical processing, marine engineering and oil and gas.

Post-processing options

Once a part has been 3D printed and the support material has been removed, the part undergoes a media blasting process. Media blasting gives a more uniform finish and it suits most applications where the customer doesn’t require a polished finish. RAM3D often compares the standard finish to the surface of a mandarin orange.

All the company’s titanium printed parts are heat-treated in order to: reduce residual stresses developed during fabrication (stress relieving); and to produce an optimum combination of ductility, machinability, and dimensional and structural stability (annealing). RAM3D can also heat-treat Inconel 718 and Stainless Steel 15-5ph.

RAM3D also offers a number of polishing options:

  • Vibratory polishing. The standard finished part is put it into the vibratory polisher where it is immersed in mixed ceramic media and left for a period of time until it becomes polished. This process can take sharp edges off certain features.
  • Hand polishing. This requires a hands-on approach involving grinding, linishing and hand sanding before moving on to buffing and polishing. Many parts are not suitable for hand polishing; it can be quite time-consuming and is a more expensive option.

Quality control

Quality control is an important part of the design and manufacturing process, with finished pieces needing to be consistently reliable. RAM3D has developed what the team believes is a key part of quality control; they build tensile bars with every build and test them. Over the past 10 years this has resulted in literally thousands of tensile tests. They keep all the results and bars to ensure traceability over every build.

This process has enabled them to develop an understanding of the key factors influencing the selective laser melting process, from laser parameters to gas flow and powder quality. Over the years they have built a quality control process that gives them a large amount of data from a single test. The comparison of each test against historical norms tells them very quickly if the build could be out of specification. The best part is it is very cost-effective, helping to keep the costs to customers to a minimum, but they have found the key is the tracking against historical data to quickly highlight even very small variations.

3D printing won’t do everything; it is another tool in the toolbox just like casting and machining. However, when used well, it can create new products and achieve new goals.

SLM Solutions names Meddah Hadjar as new CEO

SLM Solutions Group, the German manufacturer of 3D printers for additive manufacturing in metal, has announced the appointment of Meddah Hadjar as its new CEO.

Hadjar comes to the company with a wealth of international experience in product management, additive manufacturing and engineering, having spent more than 20 years in key leadership roles at US-company General Electric, with experience in the business units of GE Aviation, GE Oil & Gas, GE Power and GE Energy Management. SLM Solutions’ Supervisory Board strongly believes that Hadjar is ideally suited to lead the company as CEO, due to his breadth and depth of experience.

With qualifications in the aerospace industry, Hadjar is keen to build on his experience in GE Aviation promoting the uptake of SLM Solutions systems in this sector. His background enables him to identify the limitations of traditional manufacturing in aerospace and aviation and the opportunities 3D metal printing presents.

In a recent interview with 3D Printing Media Network, Hadjar discussed how the aerospace and aviation industries have been early adopters of the technology. Hadjar sees the role of SLM Solutions as building on the opportunities and advantages of additive manufacturing to this sector; the company’s systems can both provide series production for volume runs for commercial aviation, and build specialised parts for more limited applications required by the defence sector.

Recently Rolls-Royce purchased an SLM 500 quad-laser machine, which will provide improved product quality than was achieved with its current single laser system, as well as increased build rates.w The SLM 500 is the flagship metal 3D printer for high-volume processes and will be used by Rolls-Royce to explore applications in the aerospace sector.

With installations worldwide SLM Solutions is meeting needs in a range of industries such as automotive, medical, dental and aerospace. Its products include the SLM 125, the SLM 280 production series, the SLM 280 2.0, the SLM 500 and the SLM 800.

The challenges and solutions to large-scale 3D printing

For users interested in 3D printing large parts, fused deposition modelling (FDM) is the most affordable and accessible technology, with an extensively growing range of printing materials. Matt Tyson explores the world of large-scale 3D printing and the technologies and materials used to reliably print large, functional parts, from 250mm all the way up to 25m long.

Most durable and engineering grade plastics can be printed reliably at moderate sizes, but when scaled, many of these materials become much harder to print without advanced printing systems or technologies. Compromises must be made between print time and resolution, and consideration should be given to the desired printing material.

It can be easy

Full-size 3D printing with some materials can be fairly straightforward. Polylactide (PLA) can be printed reliably at room temperature and has therefore maintained its reputation as the most popular 3D printing filament. When printing large parts, draughts can certainly cause shrinkage or warping, so a printer with enclosed sides is ideal and a heated bed or printing surface is recommended to maximise bed adhesion.

The main consideration when printing PLA at larger scales is minimising print time with larger layer heights/nozzles and ensuring your bed is perfectly levelled. These two factors are important when printing any material.

For most users interested in printing large and functional products, PLA just isn’t the right material. Certainly a tougher PLA material like PolyMax PLA would provide mechanical properties to rival acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), but many applications at this size also require heat resistance or UV resistance, which is not an inherent property of PLA. Without expensive industrial machines, it was difficult to print large parts with engineering materials, until now.

Nylon (PA) is one of the world’s most popular engineering materials. Nylon filaments have traditionally suffered from warping, but we can now print nylon easily with basic 3D printers. The reason is advanced material development and innovation.

Developed by Polymaker, the PolyMide series of nylon materials are unique and solve the core reason nylon materials warp during printing. Nylon is semi-crystalline. and during printing, other nylon materials crystallise too rapidly, forming internal stresses and cracking or warping. Polymaker developed new warp-free technology that controls the crystallisation rate; as the name suggests parts don’t warp at any size on both simple and industrial 3D printers alike.

With no enclosure required, excellent dimensional stability and the inherent strength and heat resistance associated with Nylon 6 66, PolyMide forms the building blocks for large-scale products like the LSEV car from XEV, or the air intake from Custom Import Arts. To print these parts in ABS or polycarbonate (PC) would require a more advanced printer.

Heat, heat, heat!

Almost all 3D printing materials can be printed without warping; the key is to understand what environment is required to print each material reliably when choosing your machine. Materials like ABS, PolyCarbonate and acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) require a high environmental temperature (50-70°C) when printing to maintain dimensional stability and prevent warping at large sizes.

Many 3D printers are enclosed and equipped with the specifications to print materials like ABS. A heated bed heats the printing environment, and an enclosure traps this heat while protecting from draughts. A 3D printer design with a compact enclosure can maintain an enclosure temperature around 40°C, good enough to prevent warping and cracking with some medium-sized objects.

At larger scales, the temperature inside the enclosure will be significantly lower as the heated bed must now heat a much larger area. If we were to print a 200mm squared part, an enclosed 500mm x 500mm x 500mm 3D printer will have a much harder time printing ABS than a 250mm x 250mm x 250mm printer. The key to 3D printing ABS, PC and ASA at large sizes is a printer with an actively heated chamber, a feature differentiating industrial and professional 3D printers.

With an actively heated chamber, internal stress in the plastic is released, preventing warping or cracking. It is important to note adding active heating to an existing 3D printer is not recommended as the electronics in many 3D printers aren’t rated for high-temperature environments.

Of course some customer requirements may be significantly larger than what industrial manufacturers currently offer, in these cases custom built solutions are common.

Massive 3D printing

Recently I visited the SCG 3D printer in Shanghai, an ambitious example of large-scale 3D printing and a successful collaboration between Coin Robotics and Shanghai Construction Group. Even though the current build volume of this massive printer is 144m cubed with a printing area 25m long, there is still room for expansion.

Unlike desktop and industrial 3D printers that feed a spool of plastic filament, the SCG feeds from three hoppers filled with plastic pellets. When printing at this size a single print can easily require 20-50kg of plastic, so spools of filament become impracticable.

The SCG 3D printer can print functional materials like ASA without warping and was recently used to print the first plastic 3D-printed pedestrian bridge. To print parts at this scale without warping, a unique approach was required, combining advancements in 3D printing technology, along with leading material development from Polymaker.

To prevent drafts and maintain heat, the SCG 3D printer is enclosed with a tent heated to 38°C. During my visit inside the SCG printer, a chair was being printed, so workers had also built a smaller tent with blankets to concentrate heat within the print.

When printing parts the full length of the printer, each layer has already cooled significantly before the extruder returns to print the next layer. To combat this problem Coin Robotics engineered hot air guns that blow 600°C air onto the print, reheating it close to the material’s glass transition temperature. The air guns, combined with a unique extruder stamping system, ensure perfect adhesion between layers. During very large projects like the pedestrian bridge, workers also place blankets over the print to maintain a moderately high temperature.

Currently the projects printed with this machine require UV and weather resistance, plus good mechanical properties, so ASA is the optimal material. To print ASA at this scale, a significantly higher temperature in the enclosure would have been required so Shanghai Construction Group hired Polymaker to develop an ASA material that can be printed without warping in the SCG printer.

Polymaker’s AS100GF, an ASA with 12.5% glass fibres by weight, was one of five materials tested. The glass fibres add strength and more importantly minimise the warping effect that plagues large 3D prints.

Inside the SCG 3D printer I watched as a newer ASA from Polymaker with 20% glass fibres was being tested; I was told this will further reduce the coefficient of thermal expansion to maintain dimensional stability. To ensure the print adheres to the bed, ASA pellets are glued to wooden planks, which the first layer of the 3D print fuses to; afterwards these planks are removed.

Summary and tips

Printing large objects isn’t always as straightforward as purchasing a large 3D printer, importing a 3D file and clicking print. The nuances between materials become more defined when printing at large scales and considerations should be made regarding the turnaround time and materials you require.

If you are interested in large-scale 3D printing here are some tips.

Print time. With larger objects, print time can rapidly increase if we don’t adjust settings accordingly. Most 3D printers are equipped with a 0.4mm nozzle, which is excellent for printing models and parts. When we print larger parts, this level of detail is not required so a larger nozzle is an effective solution and minimises print time in two ways. A larger nozzle (for example, 0.8mm or 1.2mm) can extrude thicker lines of plastic, and can print thicker layer heights, slashing print time. Moreover, with larger nozzles, layer lines become more prominent and the smallest detail that can be printed changes. If a section of your project requires 1.6mm thickness, a 0.8mm nozzle will print 1.6mm with two 0.8mm lines, but a 1.2mm nozzle will only be able to print that section with a thickness of 1.2mm or 2.4mm. With a larger nozzle, more plastic is extruded per hour, so it is also important your extruder can reliably heat this extra plastic to avoid clogging or nozzle jams.

High-temperature materials. If you require high heat resistance, tensile strength or weather resistance, chances are the right material for your application will be susceptible to warping without a heated environment.

Tips for buying a large printer: Make sure the machine you are buying will be able to print the materials at the sizes you expect. In the printer specifications manufacturers only detail if the material can be printed and don’t cover what sizes can be achieved or the reliability to expect. A printer that can technically print ABS may not even print ABS parts that fill half or a quarter of the build volume without warping into the extruder and jamming. PLA is the most popular material and so the majority of 3D printer reviews are written from users who favour printing these less demanding materials. Paying the reseller/distributor to print a sample is a great way to test if the machine you are researching will reliably print the materials you require at the sizes you need.

Tips for users without active heating: There are many users who have already invested in 3D printers without active heating. There are some tricks to print at moderately large sizes in high-temperature materials like PC or ABS. There will always be a limitation on how big you can print without warping but sometimes you can push the printer’s capabilities to meet your needs.

The first key is to completely enclose your printer by closing all doors and lids and preheating the bed for 20 minutes to an hour. With long preheating times, it is sometimes possible to minimise warping. Take note of the filament’s glass transition temperature; even if your parts are warping you should avoid heating the bed above this temperature. The surrounding environment will be hotter but the increased bed temperature will affect other elements like strength and print quality. Without a controlled and heated environment, internal stresses will form during the printing process. With small 3D prints, the internal stress is enough to impact part performance but won’t impact dimensional stability so to maximise performance the internal stress can be released through annealing.

With large-scale 3D printing, parts will print with more material and therefore more internal stress, which when stronger than your bed adhesion or inter-layer adhesion will release in the form of warping or cracking. Printing with a lower infill will produce parts with less material and therefore less internal stress, minimising the risk of warping. For example, parts printed at 100% infill will suffer from significant warping when compared to parts printed at 25%. Parts should still be printed with a moderate infill (above 20%) as parts printed with a very low infill are more susceptible to cracking.

Additionally you can modify your designs to maximise adhesion with 90° edges rather than fillets or chamfers and hollowing parts of the design.

In some cases these tricks can be used to minimise warping but of course we recommend annealing to release the internal stress, which will maximise your part performance. If your part is still warping with these tips and you can’t afford a 3D printer with active heating, we recommend trying an engineering material like PolyMide CoPA.


Orbex, SLM build world’s largest 3D-printed single-piece rocket engine

Orbex has introduced the world’s largest metal rocket engine 3D printed in a single piece, produced on an SLM800 system from SLM Solutions.

Founded in 2015, Orbex develops small satellite launch vehicles. The spaceflight company introduced Prime, its revolutionary, environmentally-friendly rocket at the grand opening of its new headquarters in Forres, Scotland. The novel Orbex launcher not only uses 100% renewable fuel to cut carbon emissions by 90%, and a novel zero-shock staging and payload separation resulting in zero orbital debris, but was also design-optimised for selective laser melting (SLM), helping to create a structure 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other launch vehicle in its category.

Orbex aerospace engineers partnered closely with the applications engineering team at SLM Solutions’s headquarters in Lübeck, Germany, to ensure success transferring the design into SLM production – a feat that required the partnership of the equipment provider due to the complexity and size of the component.

Applications specialist Lukas Pankiewicz headed the consulting team inside SLM Solutions to develop a unique set of parameters optimised for this particular geometry. Working closely with the design team at Orbex, Pankiewicz consulted on the various design features and orientation options, while ensuring the part was built successfully with the required material properties and dimensional accuracy.

“Our aim during the process was to fulfill the quality expectations of the Orbex team, keep the functionality of the part and make it suitable for additive manufacturing,” he explained. “Every single support structure used in data preparation has been customised to obtain the best quality in every section of the engine, taking post-processing into consideration as well.”

The SLM800 large-format metal additive manufacturing system features a 260mm x 500mm powder bed that can build parts 800mm tall, allowing the Prime engine to be built in a special nickel alloy in a single piece. The SLM HUB unpacking system for the SLM 800 integrates contactless powder handling and automated build chamber conveyors to transfer the finished part to an unpacking station designed to remove powder through vibration and rotation. Pankiewicz ensured a powder removal strategy was incorporated into the build with purpose-driven delivery channels to be certain as much powder was removed as possible while reducing material loss.

After production, reference samples built together with the engine were analyzed in the SLM Solutions’ metallography lab, where porosity level and distribution were proven to meet the quality acceptance criteria. The rapid iteration times inherent to the SLM process allowed Orbex to realise both time and cost reductions – saving 90% in turnaround time and over 50% in costs compared to traditional CNC machining production.

“This has always been what SLM Solutions is about,” said Dr Axel Schulz, Chief Sales Officer of SLM Solutions. “Members of our team helped invent selective laser melting technology! We’ve always wanted that technology to succeed – which isn’t just about selling SLM machines but creating that paradigm shift for the customer to be successful with their process. SLM Solutions consulted Orbex on how to make the technology best work for them and transferred that knowledge to ensure their successful implementation as they ramp up to production.”

Jonas Bjarnoe, Chief Technology Officer of Orbex, stated: “The SLM Solutions team showed true dedication and in-depth knowledge of our work. I’m looking forward to continuing this collaboration in 2019 and onwards. Orbex and SLM Solutions have solved some important puzzle pieces which will change the space business.”

Pankiewicz concluded: “I think it is a dream of every engineer to build a rocket and I feel honoured to be a part this project with SLM Solutions and Orbex.”

RUAG, Defence unveil Laser Additive Deposition for high-strength steel repairs

RUAG Australia and the Department of Defence (Defence) have completed a program to develop and demonstrate Laser Additive Deposition (LAD) as a technology for repairing damaged high-strength steel components, proving its capabilities with the full repair and return to service of an arrester hook from a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornet.

LAD is an additive material technology which rebuilds damaged metal surfaces. A high-power laser beam creates a melt pool in the surface. Metal particles are injected into the melt pool, and fuse with the surface as it cools and solidifies. Overlapping passes build a 3D deposition structure, which can then be machined to the required shape. LAD is applicable to the repair of high-strength metal components and structures.

As part of the LAD technology validation in a real component repair situation, RUAG successfully repaired the high-strength steel arrester hook from an RAAF F/A-18 Hornet. The hook had been previously identified as worn ‘beyond safe limits’, due to operational activities. LAD technology restored the hook and ensured it met operational and design requirements. At the same time, the full repair significantly improved the component’s return-to-service time, compared with the typical replacement options.

Neil Matthews, Senior Manager for Advanced Technologies and Engineering Services at RUAG Australia, states: “Additive material technologies such as LAD are now critical to sustaining Defence’s equipment in the air, land and sea environments. The long-term cost reductions are significant as the reliable repair of components lowers the overhead attributed to logistics and inventory.”

Speaking on behalf of Defence, Khan Sharp, Research Leader for Aerospace Materials Technologies at the Defence Science & Technology Group (DSTG), added: “To date, Defence and RUAG have recovered more than $6m of Defence equipment using additive material technologies. Reliability and repeatability are the keys to fully leveraging technologies such as RUAG’s LAD and Supersonic Particle Deposition (SPD) repair-and-recover capabilities. Adding additive material technologies to repair capabilities is essential in view of the advanced materials and innovative manufacturing techniques used in building RAAF’s Joint Strike Fighter, for example.”

Defence and RUAG have a long history of researching additive material technologies, with RUAG now having 15 years of experience in the development and application of additive material repair technologies. Collaboration between Defence, industry and research organisations continues to be an Australian strength.

RUAG Australia is a major industry research centre for the development and application of powder deposition technologies focusing on both SPD (sometimes referred to as cold spray) and LAD for defence applications. These technologies offer a number of exciting and cost-effective outcomes, particularly in the areas of geometry restoration and corrosion protection. In addition, they enable the restoration of corroded/damaged metallic components and structures to an acceptable structural integrity and functionality. RUAG Australia maintains and operates a fixed and mobile SPD capability as well as a fixed LAD capability. RUAG Australia is a DASA 145, EASA Part 145, CASA 145 approved organisation.

Titomic creates world’s largest titanium UAV

Australian advanced manufacturing company Titomic has delivered the largest titanium, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Measuring over 1.8m in diameter, the UAV was manufactured at Titomic’s R&D bureau in Melbourne, where it operates the world’s largest, fastest metal 3D printer. Measuring 9m x 3m x 1.5m, the TKF 9000 incorporates Titomic’s patented 3D printing technology, Titomic Kinetic Fusion (TKF).

Given its superior strength-to-weight ratio, titanium provides the UAV with a strong, lightweight, ruggedised design and ballistics protection, which will provide durability for reliable in-field use by military and law enforcement and is well-suited for deployment in live combat situations. As titanium’s use is often prohibitively expensive and difficult to fabricate using traditional methods, the prototype demonstrates Titomic’s ability to utilise high-performance materials such as titanium, in applications that previously did not overcome a manufacture cost-benefit analysis, forcing manufacturers to use lower-performance materials in design, such as heavier metals or fragile plastics.

The technology is widely applicable to the defence industry and can also create parts such as armaments, traditionally created through metal casting, resulting in reduced production time and increased output.

Titomic Managing Director Jeff Lang stated: “We’re excited to be working with the global defence industry to combine Australian resources, manufacturing and innovation, which will increase our sovereign capability to provide further modern technology for Australia and its defence force”.

Co-developed with and licenced from the CSIRO, TKF is a patented metal AM process utilising supersonic deposition of metal powders to digitally manufacture metal parts and complex surface coatings of super alloys and dissimilar metals such as nickel, copper, scandium and alloys such as stainless steel, inconel and tungsten carbide. With the unique ability to fuse dissimilar materials, Titomic has unlocked opportunities to engineer parts and surface coatings unobtainable via other manufacturing methods. With the ability to incorporate multiple materials into single, heterogenous parts, TKF enables production of parts that exploit the mechanical benefits of multiple high-performance alloys concurrently.

3D printing in focus – the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion

As additive manufacturing continues to revolutionise the manufacturing industry, the focus on this exciting emerging technology will be more comprehensive than ever at Austech 2019.

Austech has consistently provided a showcase for additive manufacturing as it has developed over the years, and today the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion is now an unmissable part of the show. The boom in interest in 3D printing continues to gain momentum, and Austech 2019 visitors will get a chance to see the latest innovations in this area first-hand.

The Additive Manufacturing Pavilion will feature demonstrations of the latest 3D printers and services from a range of companies and organisations that lead the field of additive manufacturing. Exhibitors will include:

  • Additive Manufacturing Hub
  • 3D Printing Solutions
  • 3D Printing Systems
  • 3D Systems Asia-Pacific
  • Bilby 3D
  • Emona Instruments Pty Ltd
  • GoProto (ANZ) Pty Ltd
  • Headland Machinery Pty Ltd
  • HP & EVOK3D
  • Imaginables Pty Ltd
  • Konica Minolta
  • LRM Technologies
  • Markforged
  • Materialise
  • Metal3D
  • MSC Software Corporation
  • RAM3D
  • Raymax Lasers
  • Renishaw Oceania Pty Ltd
  • RMIT Advanced Manufacturing Precinct
  • Shining 3D Tech Co Ltd
  • Thinglab
  • Zeal 3D

To complement the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion, AMTIL will be hosting UNLIMIT3D, a two-day conference on additive manufacturing and 3D printing, alongside Austech at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) from 14-15 May. UNLIMIT3D will examine the industrialisation of additive manufacturing, featuring speakers who have employed this technology in their production facilities. AMTIL has assembled a diverse line-up of speakers who will share their insights on opportunities and challenges that arise from innovating in this space.

“3D printing is a groundbreaking technology with the potential to revolutionise every segment of the manufacturing industry,” said Shane Infanti, CEO of AMTIL. “The Additive Manufacturing Pavilion, coupled with the UNLIMIT3D conference, demonstrate AMTIL’s ongoing commitment to promoting this game-changing technology, showcasing the very latest innovations, and highlighting the potential it can offer for Australian manufacturing businesses.”

UNLIMIT3D is sponsored by SYSPRO Australasia and by the Additive Manufacturing Hub (, whose mission is to provide an industry-driven collaborative network of organisations that will foster and grow the additive manufacturing sector. For more information on the UNLIMIT3D conference, visit:

Ultimaker – Reinventing efficient manufacturing using 3D printing

Ford recently turned to Ultimaker to streamline processes at its pilot plant in Germany.

Since its foundation in 1914, Ford has driven innovation in automotive manufacturing. Ford is constantly thinking ahead to accelerate vehicle manufacture through increased productivity, ergonomics, and quality control.

Ford’s pilot plant in Cologne pioneers the creation of each new vehicle design before it goes into mass production. They have a complete small-scale manufacturing line, which develops cars up to several years before they go into production. Lars Bognar, Research Engineer at Ford’s Research & Advanced Engineering team, has been working on creating an optimised workflow to create jigs, tools, and fixtures for Ford’s manufacturing process.

Ford’s employees use many custom tools during their vehicles’ production. These are often designed for one specific task and model. Creating these tools externally takes a lot of time and is very expensive. To get tools faster, the team at Ford decided to pilot 3D printing as a possible solution.

A dedicated additive manufacturing team was founded, and started using fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology from Ultimaker. It provided a faster, affordable solution with less hassle compared to other 3D printing technologies.

By having a dedicated 3D workshop in the pilot plant, Ford can produce all the right designs before a new car goes into mass production. This gives the engineers at Ford more time to iterate the designs of all the custom tools. Ford wants to create tools which not only speed up the manufacturing time of the vehicles but also often have ergonomic benefits for the workforce.

By using Ultimaker 3D printers, local workforces can also 3D print the tools they need. Ford is placing Ultimaker 3D printers in factories all over Europe, such as in Spain, Italy, and Romania. The design team in Germany will supply the designs electronically, and the tools can be used the next day thanks to 3D printing.

So far, the pilot has already been very beneficial to Ford. Per custom tool, they save a considerable amount of money compared to traditional manufacturing or outsourcing. The Ford Focus alone is manufactured using over 50 custom-designed tools, jigs, and fixtures. Ford is also looking at spare parts for production machines from the manufacturing line.

But 3D printing isn’t just financially beneficial. Many of these tools have great ergonomic benefits for Ford’s workforce. After prolonged use, traditional metal tools can start to feel extremely heavy, and can impact workers’ health over time. Ultimaker’s range of materials are often strong enough to replace metal tools, which makes life a lot easier for assembly personnel.

Ford is expanding its 3D printing capabilities rapidly. While optimising the workflow to create tools, jigs, and fixtures, they’re learning more about the possibilities of 3D printing. Bognar is not only looking to create tools and fixtures, but also exploring possibilities to create spare parts and final parts using 3D printing.

Imaginables Pty Ltd will be showcasing the latest 3D printing technology from Ultimaker at Austech 2019, at Stand AM65.