Date: Apr 12, 2020 Author: Sarah Saunders Source: 3D Print (
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Virginia-based company MELD Manufacturing Corporation was launched in the spring of 2018 as a subsidiary of Aeroprobe Corporation, which produces instruments that provide and measure real-time air and flow data. Aeroprobe had been working with the Edison Welding Institute to develop Friction Stir Additive Manufacturing for printing functionally gradient metal components, and founded MELD to continue working on this novel technology.
That's exactly what the company did. Even though its technology had already been in development for more than a decade, MELD continued making strides to its patented process of creating, and repairing, metal components out of off-the-shelf materials. Not long after its launch, MELD was in the news for winning the RAPID Innovation Award at RAPID + TCT 2018.
"The MELD technology is a revolution. To be recognized at RAPID by these industry leaders demonstrates just how much potential MELD has to change the way we think about manufacturing," MELD Manufacturing Corporation's CEO Nanci Hardwick said at the time. " We want to see MELD adopted across industries, so it's exciting to see genuine interest from such a diverse crowd."
MELD Manufacturing Corporation CEO Nanci Hardwick and Production Manager David Smith with measuring tape extended to 1.85 meters (6 feet).
A few months later, the company was selected as a finalist for the global R&D 100 Awards, and is now celebrating a major milestone regarding the size of its metal 3D printed parts. Using off-the-shelf Aluminum 6061, MELD has 3D printed components that are larger than 1.4 meters (55 inches) in diameter; some of these components even have solid walls that are over 102 mm (4 inches) thick!
So, what makes this technology so unique? It can actually print fully dense parts without having to melt any metal. The innovative, solid-state process can be used to 3D print, coat, repair, and join metals and metal matrix composites. By avoiding melting, MELD also avoids issues like hot-cracking and porosity, and uses less energy to produce high-quality parts with full density and low residual stresses.
"MELD is uniquely open atmosphere, meaning no special chambers or vacuums are needed. This flexibility not only means less equipment and cost, but also that MELD is scalable and can make parts bigger, better, and faster than other processes," the MELD website states.
"The combination of material freedom and scalability make MELD a revolution for a wide range of industries, including aerospace, defense, turbomachinery, and many others."
Due to a decrease in domestic forges and mills, there's an increased demand for large-scale metal parts, like the ones MELD is now creating, than foreign companies can readily supply. The current COVID-19 pandemic has not made these delays any better, either.
"Prior to the pandemic our customer told us that these parts, printed in a few days at MELD, would have taken them up to two years to get from their supply chain," Dr. Chase Cox, MELD's Director of Technology, said in a press release. "This global economic shutdown likely added 6 months or more to that 2-year lead time estimate. MELD represents an opportunity to re-establish domestic manufacturing capability at a critical time."
MELD Manufacturing Corporation CEO Nanci Hardwick with a large-scale aluminum component built with the MELD process.
MELD's material is widely used in industry applications, though it's not compatible with other forms of metal additive manufacturing, and the large size of its 3D printed components is a good example of the advantages in scalability that this type of open-air 3D printer can provide. Large metal structures that are commonly fabricated with forging can now be 3D printed, on-demand, with MELD's technology.