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Metal Printing: A Tool in the Casting Supply Chain

Alfred Spada

What is the future of the metal casting supply chain? This is a great question. As a buyer of castings, maybe you would like to know how your casting suppliers are going to advance to make your life easier? What processes or technology will be employed to improve your component quality and time to market?

Having just returned from the AFS Metalcasting Congress in Columbus, Ohio, in April, where members of the entire metal casting supply chain had gathered, I saw an increase in the presence of additive manufacturing technology on display on both the exhibition floor and in the education sessions. Over the last several years, the conversations in metalcasting on this technology have shifted from “what is additive” to “how do I design this component for additive” as the industry has shifted from learning about the opportunities to capitalizing on them.

This brings us to the feature article, “Sparking Change? Advances in Direct Metal Printing,” on p. 30 that examines the segment of additive manufacturing referred to as direct metal printing. This is a process in which metal components are built layer by layer often by fusing together a metal powder.

“Right now, it’s moving from a prototyping past to a production future,” said Tim Caffey, senior consultant for Wohlers Associates. “It’s in the process of growing up.”

When I first learned about the development of this process several years ago, my reaction was fear for metalcasters. If this new process advances enough, it will put an end to the metalcasting industry as everyone will just print their metal components. But then I took a step back, realized the true capabilities of this technology and analyzed the stakeholders involved. The metal casting supply chain has the opportunity to embrace this technology and make it a tool to reduce time to market by providing a manufacturing portfolio that offers opportunities—with and without hard tooling—for prototypes and production.

“A lot of people have this misunderstanding of additive manufacturing that it’s going to be a technology that will displace many of the traditional manufacturing processes,” said Andrew Snow, EOS of North America. “But it’s the exact opposite…We don’t see this as a threatening technology…It’s a complementary piece of equipment that’s another tool on the factory floor.”

The more tools you have at your disposal, the greater the opportunity for success. This is especially true as you work to help shape the future of the metal casting supply chain.