A spin-out from a national research organisation, New Zealand-based RAM3D
was established to provide a ‘state of the art ’metal 3-D printing service spanning design, prototyping and — ultimately — full-scale production.
To establish its high-quality high-volume manufacturing capability, the company has now purchased six Renishaw
additive manufacturing systems and intends to invest in more Renishaw machines in the future.
Personally involved with metal 3-D printing technology since 2008, Warwick Downing — CEO and co-founder of RAM3D — said: “In our first couple of years, we had to learn very fast; and while to a certain extent we were being told by the industry what machines we were going to need, we soon understood the real impact of operating costs and the need for a more flexible manufacturing platform.
“The most important things to us were ensuring production process integrity, high-quality and reliability — plus cost efficiency and effectiveness.”
In 2014, RAM3D approached Renishaw for in-depth advice and decided to purchase one of the company’s latest AM machines, and in just a few years RAM3D was benefitting from the dramatic growth in the market for metal 3-D printing services.
Gilly Hawker, RAM3D’s marketing manager, said: “In our very early days the perception of 3-D metal printing really was one-off custom-part prototyping; its real benefits of improved part functionality, part integration, weight reduction and cost effectiveness, for example, were not widely recognised.
“We did have to play our part in improving general market awareness and helping to rectify many misconceptions.” Design for AM
Mr Downing added: “Early on, we often received enquiries for printing 3-D metal parts that really weren’t appropriate for the process, which necessitated us spending a significant amount of time explaining the importance of designing for manufacturing and for the 3-D additive manufacturing process — a concept that became known as ‘DfAM’.”
To respond to ever-increasing customer demand, RAM3D elected to make Renishaw its partner of choice. “The first machine purchased from Renishaw — a 250W machine with a beam diameter of 70µm — was the only one that offered us the flexibility and easy set-up that we were looking for.
“We had lots of ideas of our own regarding optimising our manufacturing process, and this machine gave us the freedom that we needed to implement them. If we wanted to change a parameter, to adjust it to more closely suit a particular part, then we could.”
In a little over five years since purchasing its first Renishaw AM machine, RAM3D has grown its metal 3-D printing business from mainly a prototyping service to one that also offers a fully fledged volume production service with customers world-wide.
Indeed, since partnering with Renishaw, RAM3D has seen customer part volumes ‘increase exponentially’ and has been running its machines 24hr a day for at least 6 days a week.
“While demand is very much sector and product specific, we have seen production run volumes increase from the 3,000 to 4,000 mark up to 12,000 a year — and we expect these quantities to reach 20,000 over next few years.”
RAM3D’s plant in Tauranga houses seven metal 3-D printing machines (six of which are Renishaw products), and the company says it is committed to investing in more Renishaw AM machines in the future, including the next generation RenAM 500 series — a multi-laser AM system with up to four 500W lasers.
Moreover, Mr Downing says he plans to have up to 10 machines operating by the end of the year and that he is currently trialling Renishaw’s QuantAM software.
This is dedicated build preparation software that optimises part support structures, aligns parts within the build volume and sets up the final 3-D printing file.
Speaking about his future outlook on metal 3D printing, Mr Downing said: “Globally speaking, I think the metal 3-D printing sector is at a bit of a tipping point right now, and it is certainly only going to grow in importance and influence. It is no longer a ‘new technology’, it is here and now.
“More and more businesses are coming to realise that even for the most mature of product types, metal additive manufacturing provides an opportunity to inject new life into products by overcoming the design constraints of other manufacturing processes.
“So with some degree of certainty I’d say that metal 3-D printing is going to be pushing hard on perceived manufacturing boundaries in the coming years.”