In its recent SPAC announcement, Essential let slip that it was expanding from a polymer additive manufacturing (AM) business into metals. The company has now provided details on what this process could entail, saying its new metal additive manufacturing platform will be integrated with Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSE) technology.
The project is developed by the EssenitumX team, a sort of Skunk Works within the company. Without specifying what this integration will look like, we can guess that it might involve some kind of metal-infused filament, similar to what is proposed by Brandforged, Metal desk, 3DGence and others. This type of Bonded Metal Extrusion (BME) involves 3D printing a part composed of metal held together by a binder which is then dissolved and burned in a furnace, resulting in a dense metal part.
Elisa Teipel, Ph.D., Director of Development at Essentium, said, “By leveraging our materials-focused heritage, we are creating a unique manufacturing method. Our metal additive manufacturing platform will deliver improved throughput for high-quality parts, and it will have the potential for large-scale use in key industrial markets including automotive, aerospace and defense. We expect our metal additive manufacturing platform to enable manufacturers to innovate faster and stay ahead of the unprecedented challenges in today’s markets. »
This is news that is sure to impact the stock of Essentium’s special purpose acquisition partner, Atlantic Coastal Acquisition Company (NASDAQ: ACAH). What Essentium brings to the table is a much faster extrusion technique. The company also noted that it has “five patents to date and three additional patents pending”, which are “claimed to provide energy-efficient deposition, reduce porosity and minimize warpage during construction”. Additionally, the company said the parts will require minimal post-processing and will be comparable to castings and forgings.
Given that Essentium is backed by German chemical giant BASF, both in its SPAC and past investments, we can probably expect its involvement in this product. That’s because BASF is developing a range of metallic filaments, starting with stainless steel, to work on any qualified office machine. Recently this has included BCN3D, MakerBot and Ultimaker. Even based on my rough experience with metal filament, I can see that there is great potential for producing metal parts with low cost systems. With a perfected workflow that works within the limits of technology, it would be easy to 3D print important elements using metal filaments.
We are still waiting for one of these BME variants to really hit the market. Markforged’s Metal X has been on the market for over three years and we’ve seen a number of case studies, including manufacturing spare parts at US military bases, oil and gas tooling , automotive spot welding parts, etc. However, we have yet to see, say, a massive print farm made up of these machines producing low-cost metal parts.
This may change as more companies become familiar with the technology or BME is reserved for tooling and other less critical, but still important items. Maybe Essentium will change that by introducing HSE into the mix. Anyway, we are only at the beginning of the implications for this type of technology and we will probably see major changes in the next few years.
However, we can also assume that because it is an “energy-efficient depot” with minimal post-processing, it is not a form of BME at all, nor is it a new variety. The company has also developed a FlashFuse process, which relies on electromagnetic elements to Joule-heat the interfaces between the layers, activating the nanoparticles in the polymer filament and joining the layers with a strong bond. It is therefore possible that this technique is applied to metals in one way or another.
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