There are rare occasions when a technology comes to market and it simply tears up the rule book, changing the methods we know: altering the processes we have in place and forging new innovations from those early adopters that endeavour to take the plunge.
Having seen Meltio’s new offering to the additive manufacturing market, I firmly believe that I’m in the presence of one such technology. The M450 is a multi-metal 3D printing machine that can be fed with wire, or powder, or both at a price almost 50% cheaper than even its desktop counterparts.
The M450 from Meltio is essentially a metal 3D printer. Nothing new, nothing surprising when taken at face value – there is a wide range of printers on the market producing metal parts, EOS, DMG, and Renishaw all have established market share and the smaller concept machines such as the metalX from Mark Forged are also seeing significant growth.
So, what then makes the M450 standout; what’s so different about it?
I recently had the privilege of speaking to the development team at Meltio. They’re a relatively new company established through an amalgamation of the Spanish company Sicnova and the US-based Additec, both of whom have established pedigree in the additive field. It was Brian Matthews, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Meltio who gave me the (virtual!) guided tour.
Behind a neatly designed matt black outer, and through two layers of chilled safety glass, is Meltio’s patented printhead. Through patented optic settings, this print head can use a combination of 3 or 6 independent laser beams instead of just one single source as you would see in more ‘traditional’ systems. This has allowed Meltio to produce a machine that is almost 50% cheaper to buy than its competing systems and one that gives an increase in the total laser power as well ranging between 0.6 and 1.5 kW depending on your configuration. The design of the print head, and its contained melt pool, grants the added bonus of no requirement to flood the entire chamber with argon gas, giving further savings when running.
To watch the machine in operation, I’m reminded of a number of direct energy deposition (DED) systems. However, the Meltio machine feeds at 90 degrees to the buildplate, much like an FDM source, instead of on the angle. Other, more subtle differences give enough variation that Metlio sits outside the DED or LMD processes – in fact, it sits in its own niche of LMD-WP. (Laser Metal Deposition Wire Powder). The ‘WP’ is the subtle inclusion. A casual drop from the Meltio team: this technology is the only one in the market capable of making parts with metallic wire and powder at the same time. It can also switch from one type of material to another without changing the printhead.
Each M450 is built to the user’s chosen specification and on construction, the M450 can contain two fixed wire feeders to give two material inputs. In addition, retro-fit plug and play powder feeders can be added by the operators to allow the combinations of multiple powders to work alone, or to complement the wire feed. The best element of this; Meltio doesn’t tie you into a material provider. You can use any fixed wire source between 0.8mm and 1.2mm in diameter or any metal powder between 45um and 90um particle size. This open material mentality and the increased power in the print head gives the M450 a huge range of materials with the team able to showcase examples of stainless steel, Inconel, copper and titanium.
During my virtual tour, I saw the machine in operation, producing 100% dense metal parts that required no finishing or post-processing manufactured from titanium wire. The machine included all those mod cons we’ve become so used to in the additive market (network-connected, remote operation, internal camera feed) and due to the method that the print head uses to find its ‘print bed’ I was told the M450 is capable of printing onto existing structures and can be stopped and started numerous times per print meaning no more part finished prints!
I was truly astounded by the number of features packed into the machine and with a print envelope of 150mm x 200mm x 450mm the versatility of the machine will allow it to be adapted to so many situations. I think Meltio will be playing a big role in UK manufacturing and higher education in the coming years and will sit neatly alongside FDM and resin-based printers to form a complete suite that will drive innovation and shorten supply chains.