MIM specialist ARC Group adds 3D printing capabilities

ARC Group Worldwide Inc., one of the largest Metal Injection Molding (MIM) operations in the world, announced that its 3D Material Technologies, LLC (3DMT), has purchased two EOS M 280 Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) industrial 3D printers from Electro Optical Systems GmbH, for the company's Colorado production facility.

Ashley Nichols, general manager of 3DMT, stated, "EOS laser-sintering is a leading technology for aerospace and medical components, which make the 3D printers a strategic fit for our existing business."

In a telephone interview, Nichols told PlasticsToday that DMLS is "a very complementary operation" to the company's MIM operations, adding that it was the company's expertise in MIM that led it to expand into additive manufacturing with the DMLS process. 3DMT provides engineering, prototyping, and short run production services in order to accelerate its customers' ability to access their respective markets as quickly as efficiently as possible, he further explained.

The 3D printers have a build size of 250 x 250 x 325 mm (9.85 x 9.85 x 12.8 inches) and will increase 3DMT's capacity to manufacture complex parts out of stainless steel, maraging steel (MS1 material, tool steel), cobalt chrome, titanium, and aluminum.

"Our customers are looking for rapid prototyping services to shorten their time to market, and a lot of our customers were going to RP service bureaus," Nichols said. "By expanding into additive manufacturing, we can provide rapid prototyping along with MIM."

Both EOS printers have been delivered, and 3DMT is already successfully printing metal parts.  The machines feature the 400 watt laser upgrade for improved surface finishes for aluminum components; higher build speeds in numerous alloys, including a 190% increase in the build rate for MS2 maraging steel; and an increased spectrum of available uses, including larger components such as molding tools requiring conformal cooling. The EOS printers will also provide improved oveall operational performance and reduced lead time.

ARC Group can also provide prototype parts in plastic materials as well, and Nichols noted that the company's FloMet facility in Florida currently operates three printers from 3D Systems. "We can print out prototype parts for engineering to approve the concept, then the customer will go to mass production in MIM. We see DMLS as very complementary to MIM," Nichols commented.

"Our aerospace customers that currently purchase MIM components from us still look at MIM as the best process, however they have been asking us about making 3D printed metal parts as well," explained Nichols. "Adding 3D printing will allow us to expand our potential applications within our current customer base."

Nichols doesn't see that the DMLS process will take away much work from the company's MIM operations. "The parts we make for our customers in MIM are already designed for MIM, so I don't see a lot of conversion from MIM to 3D printing.  We are quoting many parts for customers where volumes are low and it is not cost effective to build the tooling for MIM. Those parts would be ideal for the DMLS process," he said.

Nichols added that he anticipates ARC Group will be "one of the largest DMLS providers in the U.S." over the next few months as ARC Group adds more 3D equipment.

ARC Group Worldwide's core manufacturing businesses are in precision components, 3D printing, flanges, fittings, and wireless technology through its operating subsidiaries FlowMet (www.FloMet.com), AFT (www.AFTmim.com), Injectamax, and TeknaSeal (www.TelmaSeal.com).                                        

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