New Zealand-based Rapid Advanced Manufacturing (RAM3D) has opened a new facility in Tauranga’s Tauriko Business Park, with the aim of making metal additive manufacturing more accessible to the Australian and NZ markets.

The additive manufacturing market is on the rise in Australia and New Zealand. More and more companies are moving from printing one or two prototypes and are now incorporating metal 3D printing as part of their production methodology. Many people ask the question “Can anything be 3D printed”? The short answer is “Yes”, theoretically anything can be 3D printed, but not everything should be 3D printed. However, with the right design, it can be a very economic manufacturing technique.

RAM3D was spun out of the research organisation Titanium Industry Development Association (now TiDA) and it has the biggest Australasian centre for 3D metal printing. RAM3D’s new facility allows companies from a range of sectors, including aerospace, defence, consumer and industrial, to explore the benefits of metal additive manufacturing. The diversity of the parts RAM3D manufactures ranges from titanium knives used by the Team Emirates America’s Cup crew to customised handlebar extensions for the New Zealand Olympics cycling team, as well as titanium lugs for high-end Australian custom bike maker Bastion Cycles.

RAM3D prints in a wide variety of materials. Titanium 64 (Ti 6Al 4V) is the most common titanium alloy used for medical and aerospace applications. Several of its clients prefer 15-5Ph stainless steel as it has a high strength and is food-grade, which makes it a good generally accepted stainless steel. The third material is Inconel 718, which is a nickel super alloy used for high-temperature applications such as some firearm suppressors used in the defence sector.

Metal 3D printing adds another string to the bow of the designer. Items that are cheap to machine will often be better-off being machined. However, there are often parts where the designer is limited by what the machinist can do and this is where metal 3D printing excels.

When using conventional machining, the focus and cost are directly related to material removal (‘subtractive’ manufacturing). The machinist spends time and money on removing material from a blank to make a finished part. To make the part cheaper the designer must leave as much material in the part as possible so the machinist doesn’t have to remove it.

With 3D printing, the focus is flipped around the other way. RAM3D starts with nothing and spends time and money putting material on the part. Therefore, to design for metal 3D printing the designer must look carefully at the function and loads being placed on the part.

Two approaches can then be taken. For an existing part the designer should look at how they can remove all unnecessary material. Areas of load and function should be identified and material removed from all other areas. Adding cutaways, hollowing and pocketing leaves the part looking like Swiss cheese, but with each piece of material removed, the cost will decrease.

For a new part the designer should again look at the areas of function and load but they have the ability to only place material where it is needed. This can afford the designer more scope into how the part looks. Organic shapes, non-uniform sections and hollow areas become possible leading to a part optimised for function and cost using metal 3D printing.

RAM3d can design your part from scratch and include lattice integration into your design. Bastion Cycles has embraced adding lattice to its production parts, such as a lug that has had a lattice structure added to it, resulting in less volume of metal and hence a reduction in cost. With the lattice added, the part still maintains its strength while upholding thin walls.

RAM3D has recently expanded its finishing facilities to include a bowl vibratory polisher. This enables the company to provide a range of finishing options, from the raw as printed, through to polished. Its standard and most popular finish is a matt finish achieved by ceramic bead blasting.