A trip to a well-attended SolidWorks/Markforged event in Perth in 2019 identified a yawning gap in the local market that New Forge Engineering has moved fast to fill. By Brent Ballinski.

Michael Tuckey, now New Forge’s Technical Director, headed to the seminar, keen to learn more about what was on offer from the fast-growing US manufacturer of 3D printing technology.

“Mike went down to the event as he’d been looking at 3D printers and what was in industry,” recalls Andrew Day, Managing Director and Founder of New Forge. “The main questions that were being asked from people in Perth – about 150 of whom attended this seminar – was ‘Do they offer Markforged as a service?’ They could see the quality of the parts being produced on the Markforged machines. And the answer was ‘No’.”

A case became clear for the company, which is separate from but has its origins in Caldertech Australia, a company that specialises in high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipework solutions. Michael and Andrew both worked at the UK-based Caldertech’s local subsidiary, which Andrew purchased in 2019. They imported UK-made products but found some had to be redesigned or adapted for Australian customers in the water and oil & gas sectors, and the company had adopted 3D printing to achieve this end.

“We were looking at redesigning tools and manufacturing custom tools for the HDPE industry, and to bring manufacturing back to Australia,” explains Andrew. “The two companies really do complement each other and deliver innovative products.”

New Forge’s core business is to offer an in-demand bureau service out of Malaga, with a collection of machines able to print in polymer, composite and metals. It was established in 2019, and in an interesting bit of timing, was officially launched in March 2020 – the month the COVID-19 pandemic really began to have an impact.

Reflected in a series of positive results in the Australian Performance of Manufacturing Index (Australian PMI) beginning in October last year, Andrew says there’s been a definite uptick in business from manufacturing clients. Where R&D projects were put on hold, they are now back on the boil.

“Since January things have really ramped up,” Andrew observes. “So those projects that we were talking about, most of them have come to fruition. We are hearing people say we want to reshore and secure our supply chain by bringing manufacturing back into Australia.

“Quite a few people are saying this, but is it happening as yet? I’m not sure … I still feel that there’s a lot of work to do to get the cost right for people to take advantage of a local supply chain and not look overseas. I believe we’re on the right track to do this”

Building a bank

As a new bureau service will, New Forge has grown a collection of 3D printers, as well as associated services such as 3D scanning, reverse engineering, product design and prototyping, welding and CNC machining. The company’s collection of printers that can work in composites stands at ten units, by Andrew’s count, including Markforged printers, three Onyx One, a MarkTwo fused filament fabrication (FFF) machine, desktop-sized printers and two X7 machines (designed for industrial-scale use).

Marforged’s Onyx feedstock (nylon with chopped carbon fibre reinforcement) gets the most use of any filament type. When more strength is needed, New Forge customers look to continuous fibre reinforcement of a printed part. “Which, as a service is fantastic,” Andrew adds. “Because we can throw a file into Eiger, a quick check to make sure it’s printable, then we can just press print.”

Founded in 2013, Markforged announced an agreement this February that will see the Massachusetts-based company listed on the NYSE and valued at over US$2bn. Andrew speaks enthusiastically about the Markforged ecosystem’s reliability, noting that the range of ground covered by customers is vast.

“We’ve printed some amazing jobs so far,” says Andrew. “A satellite-looking part using continuous carbon fibre, moulds for plastic and rubber materials. We’ve printed a custom tool for a company that carries out service work on mining equipment. We’ve printed parts for a saw mill to help move large slabs of timber on top of benches to helping school students with their class projects.

“This is the breadth of industries that can benefit from additive manufacturing, and what we’re seeing come through for 3D printing and its uses. The custom tool was for a guy who couldn’t get to tension one of the belts on an engine. He only had a very small, narrow gap for access and a normal wrench was awkward to use, and a potential health and safety risk. So we made a bespoke tool for him of continuous carbon fibre, only 10mm thick, 400mm long, and it proved very useful and a great solution.”

Andrew’s company recently added a Markforged Metal X printer to its array. The vendor describes the machine as a cross between FFF printing and metal injection moulding, as well as being much more simple and affordable than metal printing methods such as selective laser sintering.

A job is designed and sliced as usual, then additively manufactured out of filament made of metal powders mixed with a binder, washed, then sintered, with the final parts having a density of up to 99.7%. Metal options include copper, inconel, stainless steel and tool steels.

New Forge has a Sinter 1 and Sinter 2, with the first designed for one-off parts and the second for higher throughput. Parts shrink by about 20% after sintering, and generally come out within the required tolerances.

“If you need a precision bearing fit, or some really fine tolerances, you’re going to have to post-machine the part in those areas,” Andrew explains. “For us to have the Metal X machine printing in the back of my office behind a partitioned wall, and tell visitors ‘That’s the metal machine, printing in 17-4PH stainless steel right now’, It’s crazy to see, because everyone just imagines the large cabinets, the powders and people fully suited up and wearing respirators.”

Looking to Lloyd’s

More recently, New Forge has invested in FFF printers by Intamsys, a specialist in high-temperature engineering thermoplastics for 3D printing, such as highly heat and chemical-resistant PEEK, which is used as a metal replacement in prototype and end-use parts. Intamsys (whose machines New Forge also distributes in Australia) has called itself the “under the radar champion” of the PEEK printing niche.

“What we’d been asked for were other materials: your ABS, your polycarbonates, and we looked at what else is out there that could be printed?” Andrew says. “And the one thing that kept coming up was PEEK.

“PEEK material is historically expensive, with a lot of wastage in traditional manufacturing. We wanted to add onto our high quality portfolio and expand our capabilities. We then had another search around and found the Intamsys machines. With these machines and their capabilities alongside the Markforged machines, we’ve pretty much got FDM (fused deposition modelling) covered. We’ve got high-grade engineering plastics, and we’ve got high-strength, high-quality parts on the Markforged machines. As well as the Metal X.”

After covering all this ground, Andrew believes the next logical step is to focus on standards. New Forge had been in discussion with Lloyd’s Register about certification before a private event showcasing Australian metal additive manufacturing companies to a collection of resources firms in Perth. The meet-up just drove the point home.

“From the seminar, the majority of the questions from the audience were ‘How do you certify parts?’, ‘What standards are your parts made to?’ ‘How do you ensure part quality?’,” Andrew remembers. “So we now know we’re on the right track. We need to get that certification, which is then going to increase customer confidence and enable them to look deeper into additive manufacturing for their businesses.”

Another of the local additive manufacturing companies at the event was AML3D, which became the first company to get a wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) facility certified by Lloyd’s Register in 2018. With a target market in sectors including defence, marine and oil & gas, the WAAM machine manufacturer and bureau made certification a focus.

New Forge is currently working towards ISO 9001 certification, as well as racing to follow in AML3D’s footsteps and achieve a world-first facility certification from Lloyd’s, but this time for binder jet AM methods.

“The main focus for the year is on certification” explains Andrew. “They will look at the complete workflow from jobs coming in, how we deal with data, all the way through to the machines themselves and then the inspection at the backend. What are we testing? How are we testing it? What are we measuring it with?”

As New Forge looks to the future, it can only see things moving in a positive direction. With expansion plans in place for Brisbane, the company is well on track to becoming the largest Markforged print farm in Australia.