Optomec LENS component repair
When it comes to 3D printing, “Everybody likes to think they’re different.” That’s the thought from Ken Vartanian of Optomec, production grade 3D printing specialists, and it is easy to see his side. In a climate where the majority of 3D printing is primarily plastics, you hear a lot of ‘world’s first’s coming from companies making the slightest alternation to their product, pushing some sort of uniqueness just to get that hook and buzz around being the first. Ken, Marketing Vice President, says: “Our philosophy about 3D printing is a little bit different.”
Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Optomec is located close to the Sandia National Laboratories, the place where a lot of the technology that the company commercialises originally came from. The company is rapidly growing and can already count over 150 sales of systems in 15 different countries.
“We have two distinct technologies,” says Ken. “One for printing structural 3D metals and the other for printing electronics which is really at the leading edge of 3D printing. Metals is just beginning to come into its own and pretty soon people are going to look at ‘how do I functionalise plastic’, ‘how do I put in sensors, antennas and integrate them.’ We have that technology today.”
Optomec genuinely does have a different attitude towards additive manufacturing. With its LENS and Aerosol Jet technology, it is no longer just about being able to print a 3D structure but also other benefits in areas of repair, electronics and functionality that this form of manufacturing can offer.
“Our approach to 3D printing is three distinguishing ideas,” explains Ken. “To us 3D printing means not only being able to print a complete object in 3D but also being able to add material to existing objects that might have been produced through a conceptual manufacturing process. This requires the ability of your 3D printing technology to print in 3D space not only building up but being able to print on a pre-formed space.”
Optomec at TCT Show
Optomec looks at additive manufacturing across the entire product life cycle and one of those facets is hybrid manufacturing and repairs.
“The second difference is really driven by the first difference,” reveals Ken. “We look at additive manufacturing across the entire product lifecycle not only looking at the front end design processes and how we can realise new designs but also how can we repair parts, hybrid manufacturing, how we can add resistant material parts that make them perform better.”
Walking around the show floor at the TCT Show last week, you experience a range of opinions on the state of the industry and what the future holds. Some are optimistic about a future where rows of 3D printers will fill the factories of the future and others are sceptical about the dangers of the technology with the talk of guns and IPs. Optomec has a very practical outlook on the future of the additive manufacturing industry.
“We think about additive manufacturing as co-existing with current manufacturing methods,” Ken clarifies. “It’s not, in our view, going to replace machines. It’s not going to replace all of the current processes but it is going to co-exist. That concept drives us to the notion that our technology must integrate with existing manufacturing processes. So we think about this as open system architecture where the technology can integrate freely with existing processes.”
This means that customers will find it much easier to adopt additive manufacturing technology into their current workflows to not simply replace their existing machines but to improve their processes by introducing new processes gradually.
“We think this is extremely important for adoption especially in manufacturers,” says Ken. “Manufacturing companies are very conservative when it comes to bringing in a disruptive technology, it must be proven over time. So by taking this approach of co-existence we can allow the technology to be adopted and embraced and show its benefits to our customers in a gradual form. They don’t have to shut down a complete production line they can put it in a place where it can add value. That’s what it’s all about.”
Optomec highlighted a new LENS product at the show, the LENS Print Engine which can be integrated with other manufacturing methods.
“We sell standalone systems with LENS but we want to be able to integrate this with other manufacturing methods so we took the core technology out of LENS and packaged it in a way that it can go inside of a CNC machine tool,” says Ken. “Now with the same machine you can subtract materials or you can add materials and our customers don’t have to go buy a separate machine. They can use their existing assets.”
The question of the future of 3D printing was naturally posed quite frequently at last week’s show. Ken seems very interested in the idea of sensors, connectivity and the Internet of Things being highly dominant in our world. All of this, he believes, will drive the integration of electronics into structures made with additive manufacturing.
“This is very exciting for us. The market is starting to really mature, looking for solutions that go beyond plastic and now moving into metals and we think electronics. We’ll be there when the market is ready to move into electronics.”