Collaboration programme advances metal AM in South Korea

November 4, 2020

Hongworks utilised its mentorship from the collaborative programme to form the start-up company and additively manufactured stainless steel vacuum ejectors (Courtesy GE Additive/Hongworks)

GE Additive reports that South Korean-based startup Hongworks is one of the first success stories as a result of the company’s collaboration agreement signed in October 2018, between GE Additive, the Korea Aerospace Industries Association (KAIA), Seoul, South Korea, and the Incheon Industry Academy Collaboration Institute (IIACI) located in Incheon, South Korea.

Since launching the initiative two years ago, the company states that GE Additive AddWorks engineering consulting team has been collaborating closely with the IIACI to show the potential of metal Additive Manufacturing to aerospace sector companies across South Korea.

The first step of the initiative was formalising an education programme and a series of workshops to teach the fundamentals of metal AM, provide theory-based learning, practical hands-on machinery, and software training as well as materials and structural analysis.

“Through the programme we have already met a wide range of talented individuals and companies interested in metal additive,” stated Danny Lee, GE Additive. “Some are just getting started, others are further along and are almost at the point of industrialisation. But they are all united in seeing the positive impact this technology can have on their business model and manufacturing.”

“Together with these early adopters in South Korea we are forming a local ecosystem, which in part is driving the momentum and innovation with metal additive that we see here today,” he added.

As part of the programme, GE Additive and IIACI form two groups each year to mentor. One of the groups who participated in the first workshops went onto to establish Hongsworks.

GE explains that through the programme, GE Additive AddWorks has leveraged its own experiences with additive to provide the Hongsworks team with technical consultancy on product design and architecture and business guidance as the startup thinks about scaling up and eventually shifting to mass production.

Jihong Jung, CEO, Hongsworks, commented, “When we studied GE’s approach to the LEAP fuel nozzle during the workshop we knew then that metal additive was right for a vacuum ejector we were thinking about.”

“Being part of the programme has helped us benefit from GE Additive and IIACI’s collective deep expertise as we have shaped our business model and technology roadmap for this part,” Jung continued. “The programme has also extended our network of liked-minded Additive Manufacturing professionals, who have been supportive and an additional resource to lean on.”

Typically, a vacuum ejector is a part used in a production line to move goods and incorporates a complex internal passage that controls the airflow and combined with a suction pad. Vacuum ejectors can be utilised for moving everything from hazardous chemicals to delicate products using the suction pad.

Conventionally manufactured vacuum ejectors that are widely available, are said to use at least eight different parts to create a single piece. Using metal Additive Manufacturing technology, Hongsworks’ vacuum ejector can be produced in SUS316 stainless steel and mass-produced as one part.

Hongsworks explains that its approach drives both cost and material savings, compared to conventional manufacturing that would require the assembly of plastic injection parts that can be easily damaged and prone to cracking when hardened. AM is said to perform particularly well in creating a stronger architecture and a streamlined design for the complex internal passages required to control and amplify to the effectiveness of the airflow.

Hongsworks states that it plans to further customise the part to meet its customers’ needs. Vacuum degree, vacuum reach speed and size of the part can reportedly all be adjusted and customised to bespoke fit each customer’s existing operational specifications.

In addition, customisation may also include system integration, where the ejector and the operating unit – for example, the gripper on the robotic arm – can be additively manufactured in one piece and quickly replace ejectors already in situ on a production line, explained Hongworks.

Hongworks is co-located at the IIACI’s new national Additive Manufacturing centre in Incheon, where the Hongsworks team has access to a GE Addiitve Concept Laser M2 AM machine. As the company starts to prepare the vacuum ejector for mass production, it states that it has also recently invested in its own GE Additive Concept Mlab series for ongoing R&D work.

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