Schunk Group is a ceramics, sintering and ultrasonic welding company with 9,100 people. Today, the German company is expanding into additive manufacturing (AM) by offering a 3D printing service for copper and ceramics using AIM3D’s composite extrusion (CEM) process.
3D printing with metal and ceramic pellets
CEM is a printing method similar to bonded metal extrusion, except that it uses metal or ceramic pellets instead of bonded metal rods or filaments. This allows for a more cost effective and faster method of production. Drawing on his previous experience in metal injection molding (MIM), Schunk will produce parts using AIM3D’s ExAM 255 printer. The company will also develop pure copper, copper alloys and nickel-based materials (Inconel, Hastelloy-X) for CEM. As a service, Schunk will produce small series and possibly even one-offs that are not viable with MIM.
In addition to the usual electronic applications, the company will target applications related to “low-loss power transmission, such as e-mobility, welding and tempering technology, as well as in the field of energy supply. energy”. This is remarkable given Schunk’s background in railway and automotive battery systems as well as his extensive experience in welding.
I’d bet the company has an in-house app or two for parts that made them look for more scale in offering a service. That could offset the costs, especially those related to further automation that would allow it to deploy the technology more widely. Schunk revealed that he made “induction hardeners (inductors) for sprockets in the automotive industry and for chainsaw chain wheels.” It is also interested in “electrical contact sensors, electric motors, coils and transformer components” and “applications with good sliding properties, eg low volume batches of plain bearings”.
The company sees more applications in “aerospace, automotive, rail and shipbuilding; parts for drive units, interior/exterior components as well as re-engineering solutions, medical instruments and prosthetics, tool manufacturing, sporting goods, construction, jewelry, consumer goods and industrial.
“In general, each additive manufacturing process offers design and cost advantages over conventional manufacturing strategies. From a design perspective with the use of bionic geometries and from a cost perspective in terms of material consumption and tool-less production. AIM3D’s CEM process achieves high densities, high degrees of hardness and high conductivity values for copper products. This is unmatched by other AM processes. In addition, AIM3D’s ExAM 255 with CEM system technology is a multi-material printer. We can therefore also consider multi-component 3D part applications,” said Christian Stertz, project manager for systems engineering at Schunk.
This entry into the market is remarkable for several reasons:
This is a materials and manufacturing company that decided to skip a few steps in the value chain and focus on parts as a service. We have already seen it with VIctrex, for its PEEK implants, and BASF, by founding Replique to manufacture spare parts. I think this is a very smart move that will allow Schunk to have much more margin, control and profitability in additives than if he had just one of many material suppliers. It will also be able to produce more 3D printed automotive components at scale by reducing costs through its service. These companies take on a new challenge and opportunity and meet them head-on, putting them in a more advantageous position. This is especially valuable if we perceive further commoditization of materials and increased competition from China.
Another reason this is notable is that Schunk chose to focus on copper. Copper is a notoriously difficult thing to 3D print, with only electron beam fusion (EBM), laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) and binder jetting available for a few years now. Even copper 3D printing as a service is rare. This means that Schunk is able to offer something quite new to many players. Rather than being the umpteenth company with LPBF, it is one of the few copper players.
Another noteworthy detail is that the company will also offer 3D printed ceramics as a service. 3D printed ceramic is currently very niche, but companies such as Steinbach and Bosch currently offer it. This could be a potentially multi-million dollar segment, if enough parties invest in making it happen. Ceramic has unrivaled performance for characteristics such as resistance to chemicals, abrasion and temperature. Complex series of ceramic components are 3D printed, but on a small scale. Xjet and other companies offer 3D printing of ceramics. Nanoe makes it much more accessible by allowing customers to manufacture ceramic parts on FDM machines. Overall, the market will definitely expand.
Schunk will also not market with an established supplier. Instead, he chose to beg big on a three-year-old startup. AIM3D is not widely known or understood in an industrial environment, so this could be a big deal breaker for it. Another advantage is that the company believes “higher conductivity values on the surface and inside the components compared to other additive manufacturing processes”. All in all, an interesting and exciting development for us.
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