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Sacrificial Thermoplastic Injection Moulding platform for manufacturing small and complex metal and ceramic components

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - STIM-MC (Sacrificial Thermoplastic Injection Moulding platform for manufacturing small and complex metal and ceramic components)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-09-30

Freeform Injection Molding (FIM) is a 3D-printing platform that has been developed to provide the world’s most versatile printed tooling.
AddiFab is the inventor of FIM, and is in the process of commercializing it through developing, producing and selling the associated hardware and materials, and through extensive showcasing activities.The STIM-MC project has had the overall objective of establishing the FIM production platform as a valid prototyping and low-volume production tool in the metal and ceramic injection moulding industries.
FIM is a hybrid of 3D printing and injection molding. The main benefit of FIM is that it allows the production of geometries that are only possible to create with 3D-printing, and that are produced with injection molding materials that are not available for 3D-printing. As there are thousands of certified and commercially available injection molding materials, the FIM platform offers unprecedented degrees of freedom for the designer, and greatly accelerates prototyping in true production materials and with much reduced costs and lead-times.
Two groups of injection molding materials which are associated with particularly high product development costs are metals and ceramics. Implementation of FIM in product development for these specific material groups, but also in general, serves to decrease the waste of time and materials dramatically, supporting economic growth and ultimately the sustainability of our planet.
The STIM-MC project made it possible for AddiFab complete the hardware, process and materials development necessary to market the primary product, the FIM Cell, and to prepare production of it for upscaling. The supported demonstration, sales and marketing activities, which has given AddiFab a strong and unique position in the metal and ceramic injection molding industries, have been leveraged to sell a record 8 FIM Cells during the project.
The interest in FIM from the injection molding industry has proven to be massive, with numbers of sales leads from presence at trade fairs (AddiFab had stands at 11 during the course of the project) in the hundreds, and 17 completed showcases with European, US and Japanese metal and ceramic injection molding companies. The high level of activity has established FIM as a larger-than-AddiFab concept, and has made it possible for AddiFab to attract additional funding in the form of a minority investment by Mitsubishi Chemical.
For AddiFab, the journey continues, now with a strong and completely unique position in the metal and ceramics injection moulding businesses.
An overview of the results is given with reference to the original objectives of the STIM-MC project.
Objective 1: To prepare a commercially ready platform addressing customers needs and requirements
A key element of the AddiFab FIM Cell, the Cleaning Station, has been completed and the required documentation package of the entire FIM Cell has been finalized. The types of commercial metal and ceramic feedstocks which function well with FIM has been established, and CT-scanning has been applied to conclusively detect the influence of each FIM process step on the final part geometry. To further improve the performance of FIM, a new 3D printer resin has been developed, specially tailored for the metals and ceramics injection moulding applications. The next steps beyond STIM-MC, constituting simulation of the injection moulding process, are already being taken, with promising results achieved with commercial software packages.
Objective 2: To showcase and validate the advantages of the STIM-MC platform addressing the main market barriers
17 showcases with global companies have been carried out to consistently prove the compatibility of FIM with commercially available metal and ceramic injection moulding feedstocks. At the end of STIM-MC, several of these showcases are entering the third or fourth iteration, accumulating interest from the companies. In spite of the COVID-19 crisis, 43 visits at potential collaboration partners and customers were carried out. Feedback from customers has been applied to the creation of so far 8 freely accessible videos on Youtube on how to design moulds for FIM. In addition to this, detailed how-to-videos for customers have been made for the training of new FIM Cell operators. This allows for a faster implementation of FIM at new customers.
Objective 3: To prepare market introduction to boost the company growth
AddiFab has pursued an aggressive marketing presence with a stand at 11 industry tradeshows, demonstrating the FIM technology hands-on, resulting in hundreds of leads (200+ at the TCT Show in Birmingham + several hundred from the K-show, Compamed and Rapid TCT). To cope with this accumulating customer interest, experienced Sales Managers for the EMEA and US regions, as well as 8 R&D and Support engineers and technicians have been onboarded to accelerate the commercialization, the technology development and to scale the production. To increase the ability to protect key intellectual property rights, and to support the industrialization and commercialization of FIM, a partnership with Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials was signed.
Finally it should be noted that for both objective 1 and 2, the AddiFab dissemination and exploitation strategy is that, unless covered by a non disclosure agreement, or if it constitutes sensitive AddiFab know-how which has yet to be patented, all results are freely disseminated.
Prior to the STIM-MC project, there were no options for metal and ceramic injection moulding companies seeking to quickly prototype parts in final product materials. Earlier attempts by other players in the industry performed with polymer tools had been unsuccesful, and no-one in the industry gave any merit to the concept. With the entry of FIM, the earlier results were completely surpassed, and the feedback of showcase companies can be characterized as “incredulous joy” at the removal of this perceived barriere.
The impact for the metals and ceramic injection moulding industry of faster prototyping is staggering, as part and tool development costs constitute the main roadblock for many new products. This goes for non-metal and non-ceramic injection moulding too, which the FIM technology is equally applicable to, but the tools for powder injection molding are particularly costly.
On a socio-economic scale, the decrease of development barriers in the powder injection molding industries will lead to faster economic growth and less waste of both time and materials. Particular benefits include faster and less costly experimentation and customization of products in advanced designs. The low-volume capabilities of FIM, and the demonstrated ability of FIM to deliver parts in a high and consistent quality, allows AddiFab to support the production of spare parts on demand, which may enable manufacturers to considerably reduce the amount of capital and resources that are tied up in inventories. Spare parts on demand are a particular focus area for AddiFab, and one that will be sought pursued in future research projects.