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article imageQ&A: How 3D printing is transforming manufacturing Special

By Tim Sandle     Mar 13, 2020 in Technology
Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Hon. Navdeep Bains, has announced an $8-million investment to 3D printing leader Equispheres through funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada. Equispheres' Kevin Nicholds explains more
The additive manufacturing industry, including 3D printing, has struggled with slow production and poor-quality feedstock (the ‘ink’ for 3D printing). In relation to the new investment, Equispheres has developed particles are almost perfectly spherical and uniform in size, contrasting with the historically non-uniform powder particles for printing metal. The technology also lowers the environmental impact from conventional 3D printing.
To discover more,. Digital Journal spoke with Equispheres CEO Kevin Nicholds.
Digital Journal: How advanced has 3D printing become in recent years?
Kevin Nicholds: In just a few years, 3D printing has evolved from science fiction to intensive application. While many reveled in the idea of replicating miniature versions of famous architecture, scientists looked at the technology to revolutionize the nature of manufacturing.
Equispheres is one of those revolutionaries, turning fiction into fact for the 3D printing of metal.
Kanata-based Equispheres is a materials science company focused on advanced technologies in metal 3D printing (as opposed to printing with polymers and other materials). Their patent-pending atomization technique produces a nearly perfect 3D printing powder, which in turn, can print parts that are lighter, stronger and more uniform than those manufactured with traditional 3D powders. In the three years since the company was formed, it has brokered agreements with major corporations around the world, moving beyond the R&D phase to both rapid prototyping and production of parts used for ‘serial’ production.
The industry is growing rapidly as market segments require high performance, low weight parts adopt the new technology. This includes the Automotive and Aerospace industries. The new GE9X jet engine which will be used on the new Boeing 777 aircraft, for example, will have 304 parts made using 3D printing. Meanwhile, BMW is incorporating 3D printed metal parts in their high performance i8 automobiles.
DJ: What is special about the Equispheres technology?
Nicholds: The ‘ink’ for metal 3D printers is metal powder. Typical metal powders have been developed for use in other industries, such as metal injection molding. The result is that the powders lack the quality consistency needed by 3D printers to produce reliable and high performing parts. The poor quality of the typical metal powder ‘ink’ has hampered the full-scale adoption of 3D printing.
To resolve this problem, Equispheres has developed a new technology to produce perfectly spherical, uniform sized agglomerate free powder specifically designed for 3D printing. With this powder, customers can reliably print parts that are 30% lighter and stronger. This is important to the automotive and aerospace industries that are seeking to ‘lightweight’ their products to reduce GHG emissions.
DJ: Which types of products and applications does Equispheres specialize in?
Nicholds: Equispheres presently produces Aluminum alloy powders. Aluminum is an important material for Aerospace and Automotive applications as it has a very high strength to weight ratio. Equispheres’ innovative powder is up to 30% stronger and lighter than those with traditional additive manufacturing powders and so is optimized for these industries.
DJ: How did the Sustainable Development Technology Canada grant come about?
Nicholds: Equispheres applied for the SDTC grant, highlighting that its powder could reduce the weight of an automobile by 100 to 200kg and improve fuel efficiency by 10%. This is equivalent to removing 75 million cars off the road. The Government of Canada has recognized the benefit of investing in innovative technologies, including Equispheres metal ‘ink,’ that have the power to greatly reduce carbon footprints while improving the end-quality of products.
DJ: How will the development lead to economic growth?
Nicholds: 3D printing has the potential to disrupt the current $13 trillion/year traditional manufacturing industry. The technology allows:
The production of optimized part designs that cannot be made using traditional techniques.
Customized parts for specific customer needs.
Enables the local production of parts (as opposed to the current model of mass production in low labour cost countries).
To date, the potential of 3D printing has not been fully realized due to the current poor quality of the metal powder ‘ink’. Our powder, which has been developed specifically for 3D printing, resolves the quality issues in traditional additive manufacturing 3D printing. This enables our customers to print stronger, lighter parts, more cost effectively.
This revolutionary product will enable the wide adoption of 3D printing, spurring economic growth in Canada and beyond.
More about 3D printing, Manufacturing, additive manufacturing
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