Using its expertise to add value to the large scale additive manufacturing process and take it to the next level, Airtech uses its Springfield, Tennessee and Differdange, Luxembourg facilities to house a pair of 12m x 3m large scale additive manufacturing machines. The company offers its Print-Tech® full-service tool manufacturing solution alongside its Dahltram tooling resins which have been developed in-house for advanced composite tooling applications.
Q) Firstly, what are the types of trends and demands placed on your company by today’s aerospace designers?
Many customers looking to adapt large scale thermoplastic composite tools are also interested in the details how to use and care for these tools throughout its lifecycle. Most customers have never had this type of tool in their workshop. This means understanding all your contact materials, including cleaning agents or solvents, sealers and release agents, and resin systems at the very least.
Beyond that, they ask our partnership in understanding how to care for these tools from daily use as well as how to repair them if some damage occurs. Because these tools are all thermoplastics, we also have new opportunity with the customer at the end of the tools life where we can offer options to close the loop reclaiming these materials for use in future applications.
Q) What are today's customers looking for in terms of AM related performance solutions?
What they are looking for and expect are almost what you would immediately associate with the typical additive manufacturing advertised perks: shortened lead-times, direct-to-tool design, and part/component reduction. What they don’t expect is that this technology also offers benefits in performance of the tool with better accuracy, durability, and thermal performance than many of the traditional solutions.
Q) How mature is the current additive manufacturing supply chain?
Large Scale Additive Manufacturing is all about machinery, materials and lot of expertise. Airtech has production ready resins, consumables, and repair products fully validated for use in various composite tooling applications from low temp to high temp. We developed a new series of innovative polymer composite resins for use in large scale 3D printing that has addressed the need for lower CTE and a more robust service life when used at low or high temperatures, including use in an autoclave.
These thermoplastic composite resins are designed for use in any pellet-fed FDM printing system. We saw other material suppliers in the market only willing to dip their toes in the water to validate their offerings, shifting the burden to their current or potential customers. Because Airtech serves nearly every composite market globally, we have the team and resources to be able to listen to the customers’ requirements and use that information to inform our internal testing and validation to ensure a market ready solution that meets expectations.
Q) Is AM restricted by the size of parts and the speed in which it can deposit materials?
Size and speed are increasing every year. Last year the fastest we could print on our Thermwood LSAM was 90kg per hour; this year we can print up to 226kg per hour! Machine suppliers are starting to push their latest platforms larger and larger every year.
Q) Bring me up to speed with the latest company news regarding your new equipment purchases and facility upgrades, etc.?
During Formnext Connect 2020, we announced the installation of our second state-of-the-art machinery for Large Scale 3D Printing technology operable in Airtech Europe facility, Luxembourg. This is the second ‘Centre of Innovation’ to develop Tooling of Tomorrow (ToT), the first being opened by Airtech in Tennessee in 2019 and has the same capabilities to accommodate one of the largest machines on the market, 12m x 3m with integrated machining capability.
Q) Do you think companies should be using this pandemic enforced downtime to effectively ‘reset’ and look at how efficiently they are running their businesses?
If your company has not already been looking at how to be responsive to the pandemic and its impact on your business and workforce, it may be too late for you. How and where we work has certainly been the biggest change. Rightsizing your physical footprint for the future of work is already happening all over the world.
Q) What are your thoughts about the fact that there won’t be any tradeshows for the foreseeable future? Are ‘virtual’ tradeshows now the way forward?
We are seeing tradeshows already making a comeback in the US as of May 2021. With appropriate precautions in place and a strong vaccine rollout domestically, we are excited to see more of our customers in person again soon. Businesses and people are hungry to travel again and conduct in person business. Though many feel the virtual shows did not do well replacing ‘in-person’ events, virtual shows and web-based content will certainly stick around. So many new tools and providers have come out and been refined in this past year that they are much more compelling than they were two years ago.
Q) What do you feel are the most important assets of a company?
As with any business, it is a balance of planning and execution of all these components that make companies successful. With almost 50 years of thermoplastic extrusion expertise along with the most talented and knowledgeable staff in the industry, Airtech is not only a manufacturer, but a technical partner ready to serve and assist its customers.
Q) Lastly, what differentiates your company from the competition and why should a customer use you over your nearest rival?
Airtech is unique as a large scale additive tooling solutions provider since we are producing production ready tooling as well as developing and selling our resins to customers that we have developed and validated for the market. There is a global thirst for this technology, and we can support our customers technology roadmap with near-term production and problem-solving and then the ability to provide them the same resins now, or when and if they choose to adapt this equipment directly. Innovation is at the heart of Airtech and continues to drive us each day.