At the debut formnext powered by tct event in Frankfurt, one company that had a constant crowd of people on its stand was SLM Solutions, a sight that didn’t go unnoticed by UK-based service provider CA Models who were visiting the event on the lookout for their next metal additive manufacturing machine purpose. Immediately impressed by the build size and part quality from the German-SLM machine manufacturer’s SLM 500 model, CA Models took the plunge to add the machine to its already competitive arsenal of AM technologies.
I speak with Clark Campbell, Managing Director at CA Models just as he finishes up a call with another high-profile Formula 1 customer. They’re proposing some challenging time frames for the Scottish prototyping and model-making company and Campbell has had the task of bringing them back down to Earth to understand what they can realistically achieve with AM.
“When you’re being pushed to the limit it’s the only attitude to have,” Campbell says.
Established in 1983, the company has been working with motorsport clients for a long time and a lot of its business comes from Formula 1 teams who are benefiting from the huge advantages that metal additive manufactured parts can bring in terms of light weighting and reducing part count. CA Models houses a complete design-to-manufacture service with an extensive range of machines and technologies including the Concept Laser M2, SLA machines from 3D Systems, SLS from EOS and FDM and multi-material printing from Stratasys. The addition of the SLM 500 with its 500mm x 280mm x 365mm build volume and quadruple 400 watt laser power, will bring new possibilities in terms of size and build speed to CA Models metal AM capacity, particularly in the motorsport sector where bigger metal parts are in increasingly high demand.
“I think a lot of the F1 designers have embraced this metal additive technology quite quickly. They’re on the money when it comes to knowing what’s available and what’s not available,” Campbell comments.
One of these recent projects was for an F1 team – which as with a lot of AM examples in the automotive industry, cannot be named – that wanted to manufacture a hollow double water inlet/outlet component using metal AM to guarantee both strength and weight saving. CA Models’ in house team began by choosing the optimum build orientation for the part and the CAD design was altered to provide additional stock on the component, an essential requirement when post-machining is required. The part was then sent for manufacturing in aluminium on the Concept Laser M2 and post-machined in CA Models’ CNC department to exact tolerance specifications using a 5-axis machine before being inspected with CMM Inspection. Campbell describes the lead-time as “phenomenal”, having managed to take the six to eight week production time for an investment cast and machined part down to just six days with AM.
“I’m so proud of some of the parts that we’ve produced. We’ve taken this metal technology and we’ve made it our own for aluminium in the UK,” Campbell comments. “The F1 teams are really liking the parts that we’re getting off our Concept Laser machine so the SLM 500 will bring more of the same, only we can now do bigger components.”
The new machine is set to take that even further by offering the largest metal AM build volume for hire on the UK market. Once the machine is up and running, the plan is to exclusively manufacture parts in aluminium and then revert their current Concept Laser machine to making parts in Inconel – a material commonly used in building F1 engines. Campbell says his ideal setup would be to have an additional two machines to offer even more flexibility and material choices to customers – much like their current plastic offering – but for now, the company is excited to be offering this unique service to the UK.
“I’m hoping to take us to a new level with the SLM 500,” Campbell adds. “The new machine will give really good quality parts, very quickly. Metal technology is definitely on the march.”