There has been a whole swathe of news and information coming out of Formnext powered by TCT, which is taking place in Frankfurt this week. One of the strangest stories I happened upon, is a weird coincidence, and my initial thoughts on it are recapped here.
Well, some people might call it a coincidence!
On Tuesday morning, on the first day of the show, one of the stands I walked past first was adira. I was still finding my bearings on the show floor, which this year was across two floors, four storeys apart. (For the record, I never found them). Relatively speaking, it was one of the small / medium sized stands at Formnext and I’d say 80% of it was taken up by a very large machine. I did a double take and this time noticed the strapline on the bridge platform that allowed visitors to see inside the machine, which read: “The World’s Largest Metal Part Printer!”
I remember thinking ‘that’s a bold claim’ (and tweeted something to that effect) my second thought was, who is adira? I had no idea. But tucked it away to follow up later, because Tuesday was soon to become a whirlwind of back to back press conferences and meetings — with not a few escalators and near accidents involved in the to-ing and the fro-ing.
GE Additive Press Conference at Formnext 2017 - Photo Credit: GE Additive.
In fact, the first press conference of the first day of Formnext was hosted by GE Additive. They had this prime time slot to reveal – to a sprawling crowd of press and visitors – the first beta version metal additive manufacturing (AM) machine of the Project A.T.L.A.S.* programme, which GE is referring to as its “meter-class, laser powder-bed fusion machine.” This is because the machine that was launched at Formnext has an XY build plate of 1.1 m x 1.1 m with a Z axis up to 30 cm. But this is just the beginning, according to Mohammad Ehteshami Vice President and General Manager of GE Additive and scalability is the key here, the GE team were keen to point out that this can go much bigger in the Z axis. This scalability is courtesy of the process set-up, whereby the powder bed is moved across the build plate to deliver the material layers.
The machine is branded as a Concept Laser machine, developed and produced in Lichtenfels under the direction of Frank Herzog the CEO and Founder of Concept Laser, now a GE company, since GE Additive acquired a majority share-holding (75%, I believe) last year. The Lichtenfels facility is all set to increase in size and capacity to accommodate the Project ATLAS programme.
At no point did I hear any of the GE team refer to the ATLAS beta machine as “The world’s largest ….” Although, with the consistent emphasis on the Formnext machine’s scalability, it was certainly implied.
Throughout the announcement, adira was still buzzing away in my brain, and once the GE press conference ended, I took the opportunity to corner a few of the people I knew that were also present to ask if they’d seen the adira machine, or even knew who adira was? Invariably the answers were no and no. I kept asking the questions wherever I ended up that day of other trusted contacts. Nothing concrete — and more than a few raised eyebrows at my line of questioning and the reason behind it. So come Wednesday morning (was that just yesterday?) and I was on a mission, and I headed straight for the adira stand to find out more.
The machine is called AC — addcreator — and the process, I noticed this time, is called Tiled Laser Melting, a registered trademark. Also prominent on the machine were two new poster additions – one large one stating “SOLD” (to Poly-Shape) and a smaller one highlighting a partnership with Siemens, which looked very much like an endorsement, in reference to the process controls and software.
I first sat down to speak with Francisco Cardoso Pinto, Executive Vice Chairman of adira, and after introducing myself together with a brief backgrounder on why I was interested, he laughed and said “Press! I have to be very careful what I say then.” I tried to reassure him I just wanted to understand about the company and the machine and how it fit into the AM industry.
He told me that adira is headquartered in Canelas in Portugal, with a 60+ year history in sheet metal forming machinery. Since 2000, the company has developed and commercialized laser machining solutions and three years ago began R&D into additive manufacturing. The company has been flying low under the radar, but the AC concept was apparently introduced last year at the Euroblech Hannover event, and had press coverage from TCT Magazine in November 2016, when it was presented as a conceptual platform, but it does a nice job of explaining the process.
Adira is claiming the AC is a production machine, that the company holds global patents and its primary IP is on the environmental controls of the the powder delivery, to ensure conditions are optimal to control spatter and prevent oxidation, according to Tiago B Faro; adira’s Technical Director. Francisco passed me over to Tiago as quickly as possible, with plenty of instructions delivered in Portuguese before he spoke to me.
But now AC is a commercial entity. And, perhaps the most pertinent point to note is how remarkably similar it sounds to the way the GE machine works.
When I asked GE Additive’s Comms Leader, Neil Siddons, about this, he acknowledged he knew of the adira machine on the show floor, but would not be drawn on anything further.
There’s definitely more to come from this story — I certainly haven’t got to the bottom of it.
It could be a coincidence, certainly. A massive one — quite literally. Of course, there are plenty of historical precedents, even in 3D printing land, and further afield, that support the same “things” being developed independently in different parts of the world. It may well turn out to be the case here and I’m over-thinking this?
*Project A.T.L.A.S (Additive Technology Large Area System).