Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) is an industry leader in 3D printing and developer of a unique range of advanced materials technology focused on the high performance polymer, poly-ether-ketone-ketone (PEKK).
At the forefront in the field of high performance additive manufacturing, three OPM executives, President & CEO Scott Defelice, Chief Business Development Officer Bernard Plishtin and Chief Scientific Officer Adam Hacking, PhD, have teamed up to give their perspective and discuss the key differences and benefits of the HPAM industry.
OPM OXFAB industrial material for resistant and lightweight 3D printed parts.
For many enterprises, manufacturing capabilities are competitive advantages and manufacturing costs are significant expenses. As a result, improvements in manufacturing efficiency, capability and flexibility are highly desirable. Incremental advances have improved efficiency and capability in machining and casting; however, major gains have been seen as unlikely without a revolutionary change in process.
While there is little doubt that Additive Manufacturing holds great potential for many industries, its broad implementation has been limited.
The first challenge is the need for clarity in differentiating additive manufacturing processes. The term high performance additive manufacturing (HPAM) is introduced to differentiate enterprise level manufacturing from other AM processes such as rapid prototyping (RP). A second challenge is to understand the differences in market approach, development and growth between HPAM and RP. A third challenge was to clearly identify and understand the unique value chain and processes that support HPAM.
An enormous HPAM business opportunity exists for companies that establish value chains driven by material selection, process development, engineering expertise and product validation - all of which are required to deliver high-function industrial and medical end-use products. Like many technology dominated markets, companies that overcome these challenges will necessarily develop valuable internal know-how and intellectual property that enable sustainable success across a variety of vertical industry segments.
As a technique, RP has been very effective for efficiently creating models; however, RP does not meet the many demanding requirements for industrial or biomedical manufacturing. In the early 2000s, new processes were developed to enable the manufacture of parts with fully functional, end-use capabilities. Ongoing development in sintering techniques have enabled the 3D fabrication of parts from metals and high temperature, high performance polymers.
For businesses, a reduction in the cost of goods manufactured presents a significant opportunity to improve operational efficiency that, in turn, leads to increased profitability and competitiveness. AM has gained intense interest because it overcomes costs and limitations inherent in contemporary manufacturing techniques.
High Performance Additive Manufacturing vs. Rapid Prototyping
AM processes can be broadly categorised as those that produce functional products and those that produce prototypes or representations of functional products. While all AM approaches enable the direct 3D fabrication of parts, characteristics fundamental to each technique have differentiated their manufacturing potential and commercial applications.
The term AM describes a number of techniques. For clarity, the term High Performance Additive Manufacturing (HPAM) is introduced to clearly differentiate AM processes suitable for the manufacture of fully functional, performance driven products from those suitable for prototyping or hobbyist applications. RP is an approach to making models whereas HPAM is an enterprise-based approach to manufacturing.
The High Performance Additive Manufacturing Process
The production of functional components by HPAM requires the integration of four essential processes.
Material selection, development and optimisation: Material composition, size and shape must be tested to determine suitability and performance in the manufacturing process while also meeting the functional and performance requirements of the design objectives.
Process development and optimisation: Once a specific material has been selected and validated, process development can include the modification or development of equipment used for sintering, modification of the control software and systems, or modification of the various aspects of the sintering process.
Part design and optimisation: Novel designed are utilised combing complex assembles into one part or changing design for less material. Topology can be used to carry out testing before production has begun.
Validation of the manufactured part: For parts made by traditional manufacturing processes, samples are selected for testing and usually destroyed in the process. For bespoke parts or high-value parts, destructive testing is not an option. Non-destructive validation techniques include optical measurement, x-ray imaging and ultrasonic evaluation.
What does it mean for businesses?
HPAM enables the manufacture of fully functional parts capable of replacing those made using traditional techniques. While HPAM shares a common ancestry with prototype production, the HPAM value chain has evolved in a strikingly different manner.
Successful companies in the HPAM space will operate within a vertically integrated structure, from material selection through application development and engineering to a fully functional part.
As with many knowledge intensive industries, it is expected that highly integrated approaches will create multiple barriers to entry and the creation of a few dominant IP positions. Since end-use requirements will drive the paradigm, vertically integrated HPAM solution providers will build deep, highly entangled customer relationships that generate advantageous cost positions through delivery of superior functionality.