Progressive Technology Ltd, Newbury, Berkshire, UK, a company specialising in CNC multi-axis machining, is using advanced modern machinery and Additive Manufacturing to manufacture complex metallic components, primarily for the Formula One (F1) market. After initially entering the F1 market manufacturing low-tech products, Progressive Technology has reportedly trebled its turnover in the last four years and is now creating high-end componentry and servicing most of the teams on the F1 grid.
A full 24-hour shift pattern allows rapid turnaround of parts, and the company invests in the highest quality equipment to optimise its production process. This is reflected in its Additive Manufacturing facility, where Progressive Technology continues to invest in the latest production technology, ancillary equipment and materials to ensure the production of high-quality products in minimal time.
Progressive Technology opted to produce parts using Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) Additive Manufacturing, which it stated provides significant benefits when producing F1 components such as increased strength and the research and development time required to produce new designs with the biggest benefit coming from weight reduction. A key part of this AM process is, of course, the handling of metal powders used to produce the parts.
Metal AM powders such as titanium, aluminium and Inconel are commonly used to produce AM parts for F1 cars – to ensure their quality, therefore, all powders must be qualified before use, and the unused powder must be reclaimed and requalified after the build process is completed. Dave Cooper, Head of Additive Manufacturing Technologies at Progressive Technology, explained, “The quality of the powder is crucial as it dictates the material properties and is the only way to guarantee a high-quality product, giving confidence to our customers that we’re ensuring the quality of materials used to produce the components for their cars.”
Initially, the method used to process metal powders at Progressive Technology was said to be very time consuming, with high product wastage. To solve this problem, the company has now adopted an automated solution for powder handling, the Russell AMPro Sieve Station™ produced by Russell Finex Ltd, Feltham, Hounslow, UK.
With the installation of the Russell AMPro Sieve Station, the company reports that it has been able to double productivity with only half of the labour it previously used. “The turnaround process between jobs used to take well over an hour,” Cooper explained. “Using the AMPro has made this significantly shorter, as it makes the powder handling processes automated, allowing operators to focus on other key tasks such as preparing the machine for the next build. This has been a fantastic investment for us – speeding up our day-to-day process and improving our materials’ quality – absolutely key when producing high-value parts.”
This automated powder handling system can be applied to various stages of the AM process. Cooper continued, “When we receive a new batch of powder from a supplier, the first point of entry to our manufacturing system is through the AMPro, as we quality-check the powder from their containers and remove any contamination before it can enter our process. Sieving incoming powders under inert atmosphere also eliminates the risk of moisture damage. At the end of the build process, the AMPro is used to remove the unused powder from around the parts.”
“The AMPro has a very simple one-button operation to recover the powder, and a very fast process – taking around five minutes – which is great for our lead times when we are under pressure to deliver components in rapid time,” he added. The system is completely modular, and is designed to integrate directly with existing build process for most powder-based AM systems. “The system is future-proof as it can continue to evolve alongside our production setup. The AMPro has the potential to expand and change its control interfaces to adapt to new equipment as our machine park continues to grow,” Cooper concluded.
Established in 1934, Russell Finex designs machines for the international market and supplies to over 140 countries. In addition to its head office in the UK, the company operates subsidiaries in Belgium, the USA, India and China, enabling it to effectively provide customer service and after-sales support. This infrastructure and technical support was key according to Cooper:
“We’ve had an excellent working relationship with Russell Finex,” he continued, “meaning we could collaborate with the design of the system we needed to ensure the end-product was tailored around our experience and setup, rather than an off-the-shelf product. We were able to trial the AMPro before purchasing and provided with equipment in the interim whilst our systems were finalized, allowing us to get up and running in good time.”
Established in 1934 and having worked within the AM industry since the technology’s development, Russell Finex applied its eighty-five years of experience in the design and manufacture of industrial sieving solutions to develop the Russell AMPro Sieve Station, and believes that it offers the widest range of sieving equipment to the AM industry. Standard systems available include standalone units to suit any powder vessel, inert gas purging to preserve powder characteristics, and integrated closed-loop powder recovery systems.