Burloak Technologies’ new vice-president and general manager, Jason Ball explains how the company is supporting customers as they embark on their journey of additive manufacturing (AM) adoption. Mike Richardson reports.
As a fully integrated additive manufacturing (AM) partner, Burloak Technologies provides its customers with support all the way from concept design to a final part delivered at scale. The company has a broad range of AM technologies available in-house, including Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF), Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion (EB-PBF), Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), Direct Energy Deposition (DED), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Binder Jetting. It has also made significant investments in post-processing services, heat treatment and quality assurance equipment.
Burloak’s Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AMCE) in Oakville, Ontario, is equipped with high precision CNC and EDM machines. The company also has its own heat treatment furnaces for ageing and water quenching of aluminium, and vacuum heat treatment for high strength and corrosion-resistant materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys. In 2021, Burloak added a commercial Hot Isostatic Press for densification, plus it also has a world-class temperature-controlled metrology and materials lab for QA.
In June 2021, Burloak announced the acquisition of an AM production facility in Camarillo, California, which enables the company to best serve the evolving needs of its US-based customers - including those who are ITAR regulated - replicating the successes achieved at its Canadian facility. Burloak’s facility is also near multiple space sector companies that can now leverage the benefits the company’s flight-qualified components offer to businesses looking to scale.
Burloak recently appointed Jason Ball as its new vice-president and general manager, who brings a wealth of commercial and technical knowledge, and experience in AM.
Tailored to your needs
When it comes to the trends and demands placed on Burloak by today’s aerospace customers, company spokesman, Jason Ball says that aerospace customers must first follow very stringent requirements imposed by regulatory boards such as FAA and standards committees such as AMS and ASTM.
“To be considered as a supplier to this industry, one needs to follow these requirements,” he begins. “Burloak’s internal processes have been tailored to meet these regulations. Aerospace companies value price, quality and delivery. What is also increasingly appealing to them is the supplier’s ability to scale. This is especially important in AM which is still a relatively new technology.
“Fortunately, this is something we have been focusing on at Burloak, and with the steps we have taken, we are ready to help our customers scale. We have a significant data repository of material properties, and we work collaboratively with our customers to exchange our views and our expertise. Every customer relationship we form is based on the principle of partnership. Customers value this approach as it creates a win-win situation for everyone.”
I’m interested to know whether AM is restricted by the size of parts and the speed in which it can deposit materials. Ball says he views AM’s role as a complexity enabler and problem solver.
“There are many functional and business benefits of using AM in lieu of traditional manufacturing methods,” he states. “Some examples are lighter weight or stronger part performance. If you think about existing parts that go on aircraft, spaceships, or satellites, you realise they cannot be produced using a single manufacturing process. You often start with multiple components which you then assemble into a final part. Each of these components might have been produced differently. It works the same way in AM - a single type of AM machine or AM technology won’t be suitable for all materials. Burloak understands these dependencies extremely well and can offer the right solutions.
“We work alongside our partners to guide them in the right direction to find the right technology for their needs. We are technologically agnostic, meaning we first look to understand the application and the functional and business requirements of our partners before advising them on the path forward. We would never push our customers to choose AM unless we know this is the best fit for their application.”
Another key area in additive manufacturing process concerns the post-production issue in removing the component support webbing after the printing process. What is Ball’s take on this?
“The amount of support webbing depends on a few parameters. An expertise in printing the material is one of them. At Burloak, we have engineered solutions where the supports can be easily and quickly removed for high-strength materials, wherein previously they would need to be machined. Supports are also important for thermal considerations, and we often use simulations to create an optimum strategy for printing.”
It all adds up
Burloak Technologies is a division of Samuel, Son & Co., one of North America’s largest metal processors, distributors, and parts manufacturers. Most of Samuel’s manufacturing facilities today use the traditional way of producing parts.
“Although AM is still at the early stages of market adoption, we believe that it will be disruptive both to Samuel and to Samuel’s customers,” Ball explains. “Samuel wanted to ensure Burloak was at the forefront of this disruption and we wanted to position ourselves to be able to support our customers and provide them with the best solutions to their needs independently of the technology used. This is where the combination of having Samuel and Burloak is truly unique in terms of what we can do for our customers.
“So, we don’t think AM will replace traditional manufacturing methods. At the end of the day, not every application is suitable for AM. Where applicable, AM can offer many opportunities to unlock value such as eliminating material waste, but also building lighter and stronger components, enabling shorter product development cycles, manufacturing at the point of need, etc.
“AM technologies are enabling complex designs and eliminating the need for multiple assemblies. AM reduces the number of steps required in traditional manufacturing thereby reducing the costs and risks associated with these steps. That said, AM technologies are and always will be complementary to traditional manufacturing methods. Not every part is suitable for AM, therefore it won’t replace traditional manufacturing, but it will complement it. Bear in mind, although AM is a relatively young industry, it is very dynamic with multiple developments underway. These include the advancement of existing AM technologies or steps taken to develop industry-wide standards.”
Given the nature of current business environment during these pandemic times, being an agile organisation is extremely important. Ball says that what has helped Burloak get through the pandemic is its agility, knowledge and the experience gained over the years, alongside the strong customer partnerships it has managed to establish.
“Even prior to the pandemic, Burloak was on a growth path to scaling. We ‘upgraded’ our Centre of Excellence by commissioning new heat treatment equipment, setting up our materials laboratory, training and preparing for our Nadcap and ISO17025 certifications, and improving our processes. During the pandemic, we also managed to utilise the extra production capacity we had to print face shields for frontline health care workers.”
Time for a rethink
So have companies used this pandemic enforced downtime to ‘reset’ and look at how efficiently they are running their businesses?
“There is certainly some truth to it, every company is different,” states Ball. “Looking back, this pandemic has forced us to look at alternative ways of working remotely. This certainly improved our global mindset and facilitated our expansion efforts. In terms of any positives to come out of all this, there is always some learning to be gained from an event. This pandemic has further proven the flexibility and speed at which AM can adapt to changes and extreme situations.
“Companies across many industries experienced significant supply chain disruptions. Thanks to AM, they were able to print parts on-demand, which has helped alleviate some challenges. Other companies have taken advantage of the short product development times associated with AM to test, validate and supply quality parts for healthcare workers.
“Another benefit of AM is that once a part is set up for printing, it can be completed with nearly no human intervention. After a part is printed, the operator can then set up the fabrication of another part. This has greatly benefited our customers as it allowed them to keep their programmes on track and ensure a continuous supply of their parts.
“Although AM is a relatively new technology, it is a very broad term. We believe that the more understanding there is about AM in the marketplace, the better it is for us and the industry. Every AM company has its strengths. What makes us unique is our proven track record of working with leading space and aerospace companies on mission-critical components. In fact, we are the first and only supplier in the world to be approved by Boeing Commercial Airplanes to print aluminium components under their process specification BAC 5673.”
What also sets Burloak apart is its surface finish capabilities that make the company’s parts ideal for space and aerospace applications. Burloak also offers a broad range of different AM technologies under one roof, all combined with its in-house heat treatment, post-processing and material testing.
“We can recommend solutions that meet the needs of any industry,” Ball concludes. “Burloak is an extremely dynamic and agile organisation, and over the past years we’ve been working hard on building strong industry partnerships and maintaining the existing ones.
“We are looking forward to supporting our customers as they embark on a journey of AM adoption. Scalability of AM has been our focus for some time now and we look forward to supporting our customers with their ongoing efforts to scale AM production.”