Rapid Advanced Manufacturing Ltd (RAM3D), based in New Zealand, has partnered with the Renishaw,, UK, to establish high-quality volume metal Additive Manufacturing capabilities.
RAM3D, which is said to be the Southern Hemisphere’s largest independent metal AM service, provides its solutions for a range of global industry sectors, including aerospace, marine, and food processing. Warwick Downing, CEO and co-founder of RAM3D, stated, “In a way, RAM3D’s origins and success reflect the New Zealand culture. A culture where people aren’t afraid to try new things and try different approaches in order to overcome difficult challenges.”
Downing continued, “In our first couple of years, we had to learn very fast and while to a certain extent we were being told what machines we were going to need, we were quick to understand the real impact of operating costs and the need for a more flexible manufacturing platform.”
“We realised early on that those extra ‘bells and whistles’ on an AM machine weren’t necessarily a good thing,” he explained. “Very often, they were in fact the things that would cause a machine to break down or underperform. The most important thing to us was assuring production process integrity, high-quality and reliability, and ensuring cost-efficiency and effectiveness.”
In 2014, RAM3D approached Renishaw for advice and purchased what was then the company’s latest AM machine.
According to RAM3D, in a matter of a few years the company experienced a dramatic evolution in the market for metal AM services. The challenges initially faced included raising awareness in a nascent marketplace, educating on Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), and preparing for a shift from prototyping, to prototyping and full production.
Gilly Hawker, RAM3D’s Marketing Manager, stated, “In our very early days the perception of 3D metal printing really was that it was just for one-off, custom part prototyping. Its real benefits, in terms of improved part functionality, part integration, weight reduction, cost-effectiveness and so on, just weren’t widely recognised. We did have to play our part in improving general market awareness and helping to rectify any misconceptions.”
Downing added, “More specifically, in the beginning we often received enquiries for 3D metal printing for parts which really weren’t appropriate for the process.”
Recognising the advantages of Renishaw’s AM systems, RAM3D later elected to make the company its partner of choice. The machine purchased in 2014 was equipped with an optical system delivering 250W of laser power for a beam diameter of 70 µm, and had a human-machine interface that was highly graphical and intuitive in nature. Driven by forecast customer demand, RAM3D followed a phased introduction of additional Renishaw AM machines to meet growing production capacity requirements.
Downing further added, “The machine purchased from Renishaw at the time, was the only one that offered us the flexibility, openness and easy set up that we were looking for. We had lots of ideas of our own on optimising our manufacturing process, and this machine gave us the freedom that we needed to implement them. If we wanted to change a parameter, to adjust it to more closely suit a particular part, then we could.”
Using its suite of Renishaw AM machines, RAM3D now additively manufactures metal parts in a complete range of metal powders, including stainless steel 15-5ph, stainless steel 316, inconel 718 and titanium 64, and is currently looking to add maraging tool steel to its product portfolio.
In the five years since purchasing its first Renishaw AM machine, RAM3D states that it has grown its metal AM business from what was primarily a prototyping service, to a fully-fledged volume production service. The company is also able to serve customers throughout the world as well as in its Australasian home territory.
Downing concluded, “To be a commercial success in this field, you need to make the right choice of AM machine, make the manufacturing capacity available, and develop the right manufacturing process.”
Since partnering with Renishaw, RAM3D has seen customer part volumes increase exponentially and has been running the machines for twenty-four hours a day for at least six days a week. The company explains that while demand is very much sector and product specific, it has seen production run volumes rise from 3,000–4,000, up to 12,000 per year, and expects it to reach 20,000 per year over next few years.
Currently, RAM3D’s operating plant in Tauranga, New Zealand, consists of eight metal Additive Manufacturing machines, seven of which are Renishaw machines. The company added that it is committed to investing in more Renishaw AM machines in the future, and plans to have nine to ten operating machines by the close of 2020.
The company is also trialling Renishaw’s QuantAM software, a dedicated build preparation software that can optimise part support structures, align parts within the build volume and sets up the final AM file.
According to RAM3D, by establishing a common platform for its growing Additive Manufacturing operations, it has been able to continuously boost efficiency year-on-year. A process material changeover on a machine for example, from one metal to another, can now take less than an hour.
The company explains that by partnering with Renishaw, it is helping customers to manufacture products that are superior in terms of function, part integration, performance, weight and cost effectiveness.