Vuecason is developing a novel metal additive manufacturing method with minimal post processing. We use an induction FFF wire fed process to print pure metal through a nozzle - similar to plastic. This allows us to heat and place pure metal in one single step, eliminating the need for de-binding, sintering, or powder. Our printer will be capable of producing large, high performance parts with really short lead times.
This still work in progress and subject to change
Machine tools such as lathes unlocked high precision for larger parts. It resulted in the creation of inventions such as the steam engine, ultimately enabling the industrial revolution. Metal 3D printers might become the ultimate machine tool, with far greater automation, operational flexibility, and ability to produce complex geometry than the past. Additive manufacturing can serve as an abstraction layer for manufacturing, so design engineers spend less time thinking about manufacturing. Fast, reliable, and cost effective metal AM will allow for iteration in production, localized production, and more sophisticated parts. By printing metals like plastics, many issues of existing metal AM processes can be avoided.
Significance of machine tooling
A machine tool is a machine that helps build machines and products machine tools are an important underlying part of any industrial society and enable the industrial capacity of any nation. The consumption of machine tools is a strong indicator of the overall manufacturing capacity of a nation. The proliferation of machine tools, such as CNC machines enabled the increases in automation seen since the 1960's. To honor the history of machine tooling, Vuecason is named after Jacques de Vaucanson, inventor of the all-metal lathe in 1751. It was the lightbulb moment for tooling - the first workable solution. Prior to Vaucanson's lathe, all-metal lathes were primarily used for watchmaking. These lathes were too small to make the larger parts that enabled the industrial revolution. Larger lathes made from wood were unable to provide the precision either. The large all metal lathe enabled the creation of larger, high precision metal parts. Without the lathe, James Watt's steam engine wouldn't exist. In a way the change in the functional use of lathes isn't all that different from our goals. Current metal AM(primarily binder jet), is intended for precise, small parts - the Vuecason printer will unlock greater precision in larger parts. The fundamental question: How can we make it easier and faster to shape and place metal?
State of modern manufacturing
Just in time manufacturing has traded resilience for efficiency. Production has become hyper-concentrated. Supply chains become vulnerable to disruptions from black swan events. Covid-19 has exposed this vulnerability. In the near term future, there will be greater awareness to this supply chain disruptions. As companies re-evaluate their supply chains more opportunities to adopt additive manufacturing will emerge. Increased logistics overhead costs are a result of complex supply chains.
A strong machine tooling industry has taken off in China, whereas countries such as Brazil and India are not able to sustain a strong machine tool industry. Without a strong machine tooling industry, countries can't do significant manufacturing domestically.
What happened to the 3D printing revolution?
In 2015, Morgan Stanley forecasted additive manufacturing would be worth as high as $21.3 billion by 2020. Ark invest predicted the market would be valued at $41 billion in 2020. As of 2019, the additive manufacturing market was only valued at $12 billion. Media has overhyped metal AM - it doesn't cover the drawbacks: the time, expense, and difficulty of post processing parts, difficulty designing parts, expertise needed to operate a metal printer. Parts are designed for manufacturability, so parts are designed around existing manufacturing capabilities. This acts as a moat against metal AM, because any part optimized for conventional manufacturing is suboptimal for metal printing - those parts need to be redesigned. The additive manufacturing industry did not grow to its predicted size largely because switching cost was overlooked, and its capabilities oversold.
Why additive manufacturing still sucks
AM companies have developed their printers under the wrong constraints. Optimizing to minimize print time at the cost of more intense post-processing actually increases lead times. The best way to print metals is like plastics. Metal AM isn't even that good for prototyping if there is an intent to manufacture. One key purpose of a part prototype is to evaluate the physical properties on a part and to test how manufacturable it is. What's the point in prototyping on a 3D printer if all the physical properties are different compared to the end use manufactured part? An example: Metal AM needs to be fast enough to scale to low volume manufacturing. Then the same print methodology for prototyping can go directly into manufacturing and the physical properties on either process align. The same manufacturing method is used for prototype and end use part, so prototyping is done within the real manufacturing constraints. 1Without that, AM is only good for single part prototyping.
Why Vuecason can solve these problems
Vuecason is solving metal printing under the correct constraints, not just commercializing existing research. We optimize for minimal lead time and cost instead of optimizing for minimal print time at all costs. By placing and melting pure metal in one step, the Vuecason printer will place and heat material continuously in one process, eliminating the need for sintering, de-binding, and powder. Our priority is focused on meeting the needs of aerospace and manufacturing tooling customers, as additive manufacturing can be heavily leveraged there.