Additive Manufacturing (AM), also commonly referred to as 3D Printing, is a transformative approach to industrial production that enables the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems. AM is another Industry 4.0 technological advancement made possible by the transition from analogue to digital processes.

AM makes use of computer aided design (CAD) models or 3D-scanned model files to direct hardware to deposit material, usually layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes. As its name implies, additive manufacturing adds material to create an object. By contrast, when you create an object by traditional means, it is often necessary to remove material through milling, machining, carving, shaping or other means.

With the global supply chain constraints felt around the world today, additive manufacturing is well positioned to alleviate some of the pain points experienced by companies in the mining, oil & gas, and heavy industries. Many companies in these industries have already turned to metal AM processes like direct metal laser melting (DMLM) and wire-laser metal deposition (W-LMD) for part specific solutions.

By 3D-printing spare parts, oil & gas company Shell is effectively extending the life of their assets and reducing costs and lead times for part specific cases. Another great case where AM saved time and money for a local drilling company was with the stator (pictured above) for a drilling setup. The part could be manufactured over 2 days in Inconel 718 material by a local South African company, HH Industries, at a fraction of the costs charged by the original equipment manufacturer and with a much faster lead time.

AM is also making an impact in the mining industry because mines often have problems with consumables and spare parts due to their positioning being in remote locations far away from equipment manufacturers. Mining companies can use W-LMD to produce parts like drill bits, ground engaging tools (GETs), compressor screws, and even steel piping on site. The rock drill bit pictured below was produced on a Meltio M450 wire-laser metal deposition machine over the period of 30 hours as a sample for the Electra Mining Africa 2022 expo on the Multitrade 3D Systems stand. Rock drill bits are essential tools in any mining operation because they’re tasked with perforating hard soil and rock while flushing away debris. With metal 3D printing, the flushing holes can be added almost anywhere in the CAD model and printed without any additional cutting or drilling operations needed, freeing up design constraints from traditional processes.

This rock drill bit could be manufactured either by CNC machining, scrapping about 40% of the mass of the initial steel stock, or by casting, with a high setup cost. However, both traditional manufacturing methods can be difficult to implement near the point of use. With the right infrastructure, metal 3D printing machines can be set up and run very close to the mining or drilling operations and can print a variety of part geometries in a wide range of materials that can be stored on site with the machines.

African mining and oil & gas companies that are experiencing supply chain issues are well positioned to start utilising Additive Manufacturing in their operations to save on valuable time and money while keeping their operations running smoothly. Producing parts on site for use on site is becoming a greater reality especially after the coronavirus pandemic.

Multitrade 3D Systems has the expertise and experience in metal Additive Manufacturing to help these companies on their Additive Manufacturing journey by supplying only the best equipment from GE Additive and Meltio into Africa.

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