Ultimaker releases metal 3D printing expansion kit for the S5 platform – 3DPrint.com

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Ultimaker, the Dutch powerhouse for desktop 3D printers, has announced the release of a metal expansion kit for its S5 platform. The S5 is Ultimaker’s large-scale 3D printing platform and is used by Ford and Volkswagen, among other giant companies.

In a press release, Ultimaker Product Manager Andrea Gasperini said, “The Ultimaker Metal Extension Kit is particularly suitable for printing non-commercially available parts such as tools, jigs and fasteners, spare parts, working prototypes and ancillary components. The kit provides access to a complete, validated 3D printing workflow on an open platform that delivers competitive quality and turnaround times normally only attainable with in-house Fused Metal Filament Manufacturing (MFFF) solutions at full cost much higher possession.

Gasperini also noted that the limited number of customers who have already started using the kit “realize a return on investment (ROI) in less than a year.” So it’s clear that financial considerations, alongside Ultimaker’s dominance in the FFF desktop market, should help bring metal additive manufacturing (AM) to a much wider audience.

Probably not by chance, this comes shortly after two significant Ultimaker developments: the company’s purchase of MakerBot and the latest update (version 5.0) of its Cura software. The latter facilitates much greater user control by allowing prints with varying line widths within the same object.

As for the MakerBot acquisition, just over a year ago (and about a year before it was acquired by Ultimaker), the company released a metal extension rig for its METHOD system. Especially given that Ultimaker, like MakerBot, uses BASF filament, it seems likely that the metal extension kit was one of Ultimaker’s main interests in the acquisition.

In addition to hardware components, including print cores and a print bed, the metal expansion child provides access to several online support services for the platform. And, as was the case with the MakerBot bundle, customers have access to BASF’s debinding and sintering order management portal. After parts are printed, customers send them to a local participating service office for post-processing, after which the finished product is returned.

If the much lower price, compared to purchasing entire additional rigs, does indeed lead to wider adoption of metal AM, this could be a catalyst for increased adoption of the use of AM for repairs. The ability to change line widths would also facilitate this, again due to its improved user control, accentuating the primary advantage of AM technologies: the ability to create otherwise unachievable geometries. This is especially useful for creating unique parts (or even parts of parts) specifically designed to perform unique repairs.

Finally, while the process of sending the print out for post-processing is obviously less convenient than being able to do your own post-processing, it’s also a big part of what makes the cost of entry so much lower. Additionally, with increased adoption, sinter service offices would become logical hubs for burgeoning AM-centric supply chains.

Images courtesy of Ultimaker

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