Imperial Machine & Tool Co., an established family run engineering business based in Columbia, New Jersey, USA, has a rich and varied history spanning some 73 years. Founded in 1943, the company has developed a reputation for tackling numerous challenging projects and employing the most state of the art equipment available.
The company provides engineering and manufacturing services to a wide variety of customers including leading technology companies, research institutions and the US government. Looking to stay at the forefront of new and developing technologies, Imperial installed its first metal AM machine in 2013.
Metal Additive Manufacturing has yet to fully break into mainstream manufacturing operations and although the market is growing significantly, it is still rare to find metal AM capabilities outside large corporations or advanced research institutions. It’s particularly rare to find the capability married with advanced multi-axis CNC machining capabilities such as those found at Imperial.
“In 2012, my son Christian and I were discussing capital equipment needs over lunch one day and the topic turned to metal Additive Manufacturing,” stated Chris Joest, President of Imperial Machine & Tool Co. “We had been using polymer based AM for quite some time so I was familiar with the technology, but frankly metal additive wasn’t even on my radar. I had been thinking along the lines of additional 5-axis machining centres or a large horizontal machining centre.”
“Christian pointed out some of the very interesting things that were going on in additive at the time and that certainly piqued my interest. Upon further study I got our team together and said, ‘We should get out in front of this metal 3D printing technology. It has current benefits for us and our customers and clearly is the wave of the future for manufacturing’,” added Joest.
Imperial bought an SLM 280 HL in 2013 and experienced a very steep initial learning curve both internally and with customers “I told my team we might lose our shirts for the first couple of years (and we did), but I had no doubt that over time the investment would pay off. In house we had to decide how best to marry the new capability into our operations. With our customers, we found we had to start the conversation at a much different point than a typical machine shop conversation – beginning with what metal AM is really capable of. On the whole though, there was excitement and frankly wonder at what we could now create.”
While it took a couple of years, the metal additive department was soon getting busier and busier, and in 2015 Imperial purchased a second SLM 280 HL “Twin-Laser” to keep up with their growing additive workload. The company intends to continue investing in additive and is shopping for new and larger tools and capacities.
“We’ve really hit our stride in the last couple of years. In particular we’ve been able to separate ourselves by offering comprehensive hybrid manufacturing services that marry additive and subtractive techniques effectively. Having extensive machining, welding and fabricating experience provides significant advantages since almost all metal additively manufactured items require some level of machining after they are printed. Many additive shops and organisations simply can’t do this because they don’t have the robust machining background we have. Hybrid manufacturing is what’s unlocking the most innovative designs, not just additive on its own,” continued Joest.
“We’re honoured to be invited to share some of the things we’ve learned with the folks at RAPID. While we can’t share our most interesting items due to confidentiality and IP concerns, we’re going to bring some pretty cool examples of hybrid manufactured parts to the show. Once folks see what the possibilities are, they understand why we are laser focused on Additive. It’s truly the next generation of manufacturing”
Imperial will be discussing its journey into metal AM, and the impact of Hybrid Manufacturing, during a presentation at Rapid + TCT 2017, May 8-11, Pittsburgh, USA. The company also has an exhibition booth, #2441, where it will display a full array of hybrid manufactured components.