Additive Test Bed

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by Andrew Brooks

A low-risk, low-cost way to explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing

Renishaw has been involved in additive manufacturing for nearly ten years. The company recently made a major new commitment with the opening of the Renishaw Canada Solutions Centre in Kitchener, ON.

The company moved into the new facility in January 2016. The official opening took place November 1. At the event, the company offered demonstrations of additive manufacturing applications in the automotive and aerospace sectors. It also showcased its new RenAM 500M laser powder bed fusion system.

But the Solutions Centre is about a lot more than showcasing Renishaw’s additive technology offerings. One of its main purposes is to provide a low-risk, low-barrier way for companies interested in taking advantage of additive manufacturing to become familiar with how it works and what it can do. “The centre is a significant investment by Renishaw,” says Mark Kirby, additive manufacturing business manager for Renishaw Canada. “We recognize that there are barriers to the adoption of additive manufacturing, and we want to help encourage that adoption.”

The main barriers are the expense and the complexity of additive manufacturing. AM still isn’t well understood, even–or perhaps especially–by people with years of manufacturing experience. Renishaw hopes the Solutions Centre will help manufacturers understand how additive manufacturing can work in a manufacturing operation.

“We have a lot of our industrial measuring equipment here, to support new product development that is going to be using additive together with subtractive manufacturing, because the accuracy of parts typically requires finished machining for critical surfaces,” says Kirby.

The aim of Renishaw's facility is to help manufacturers understand how additive manufacturing can work in a manufacturing environment.In fact, additive manufacturing can pose a real challenge when it comes to finished machining. Because additive requires only the absolute minimum amount of metal, parts are less bulky and less rigid. They tend to vibrate and move around a lot more under the secondary processing.

“You’re often machining a high value component that may be organic in shape, and is probably a lot less stiff in certain directions than a solid block of metal,” says Kirby. “That’s something that we are trying to help customers with, along with good solutions they can reuse, so they don’t have to start from scratch.”

One of Renishaw's metal additive machines at the Solutions Centre.Kirby points out that one of the crucial challenges of additive manufacturing is simply developing the understanding of additive manufacturing, so that design engineers in particular know what the possibilities and constraints are.

“We’ve put all of this technology in one place so that education can take place in a real working environment where the potential benefits can be explained and the process can be ‘de-risked,’” says Kirby. The idea is to give prospective users a way to explore additive manufacturing without spending a million dollars to try it out.

“Having an environment where you can basically stage-gate a new process would be regarded as best practices with any new product introduction. With additive manufacturing, the key is to be able to do it off-site, because with a new industry like this, almost no one has the necessary facilities and skills.

“The industry is so new” adds Kirby. “There are very few people who have any additive metal experience, let alone years of it. We’re lucky to have all that under one roof here.”

The solutions centre is the only one of its kind in North America so far. “That’s a unique Canadian experience,” says Kirby with a laugh, “to be ahead of the US.”


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