Mantle launches its paste-based metal 3D printing

Metal 3D printing is no longer this technology strictly confined to the use of lasers. The last few years have been marked by the arrival of new processes created with the aim of removing certain barriers specific to older additive processes. A myriad of innovative start-ups have come to shake up the market by offering new solutions based on metal-filled filaments, bonded or projected powders. Systems derived from MIM and some cold spraywhich respond to certain problems encountered with laser sintering, such as the high prices of equipment and materials, or the low production rates.

The most innovative approach that has recently broken into the metal 3D printing market comes from an American manufacturer called Mantle. A year ago, this young shoot unveiled “Trueshape”, a technology very different from its counterparts, since it uses neither powder nor filament. Instead, this start-up prints with metal clay.

To understand where this idea comes from, you have to know that its co-founder, Steve Connor, is a brilliant chemist who spent the first part of his career carrying out work on the development of a material less expensive than the pastes of silver used in the solar industry. This is how he came up with the idea of ​​adapting his solution to additive manufacturing.

The result, dubbed TrueShape, is a hybrid technology that works both additively and subtractively. Of the FFF type, the 3D printer is equipped with a printing nozzle which deposits layer after layer of metallic pastes until the final part is obtained. Once printing is complete, the second step that always takes place in the printer is to heat the object to remove the binder. After that, the part undergoes a CNC milling operation which smoothes the surface of the part. Manufacturing is finally completed by firing in an oven, the aim being to sinter the metal particles.

Thanks to this approach, Mantle is able to obtain very precise parts. The reason is that the pastes shrink much less than other sintering technologies using metal powders, which improves the precision of the printed part. The manufacturer also claims exceptional surface finishes, comparable to the surface finish of conventionally manufactured molds. The mechanical properties would be identical to those of standard tool steels.

“The accuracy and quality we get from the printer allows us to bypass a lot of our internal manufacturing processes”

Printing and machining operation performed by the P-200

Extrusion of metallic paste performed by the P-200 (photo credits: Mantle)

Machining operation performed by the P-200

Machining operation performed by the P-200 (photo credits: Mantle)

P-200 3D printer and its F-200 baking oven

P-200 3D printer and its F-200 baking oven (photo credits: Mantle)

The startup adds that unlike existing processes that all require extensive post-processing, TrueShape is faster and less expensive. Compared to traditional mold making methods, its technology is said to be able to produce tools in just four steps in 2-4 weeks, compared to an average of twelve steps and twelve weeks. For all these reasons, Mantle has serious ambitions in the tooling market. To back this up, the manufacturer mentions mold designs that are impossible to achieve conventionally, such as conformal cooling lines, to improve their performance.

Building on the success of its pilot projects with beta customers, including Westminster Tool, a precision mold manufacturer in Plainfield, Connecticut, or Wepco Plastics, the American startup decided to make its technology available to a more wide audience.

Slated for the first quarter of 2023, the machine that embodies this commercialization is called P-200, a 3D printer with a build volume of 200 x 200 x 150 mm. Enough to meet most of the manufacturing needs of the target market targeted by Mantle, which are tooling companies. The system is also accompanied by a baking oven necessary for the sintering of the parts.

In terms of materials, the P-200 will initially be able to process two tool steels: H13 and P2X, a steel comparable to P20. Very hard metals which would have the advantage of being durable, stable and behave like traditional tool steels with secondary operations such as machining, polishing, coating and laser welding. Finally, on the software part, Mantle specifies the presence of an easy-to-use tool that automates the printing process, including the generation of all toolpaths and machine instructions. A software that not only calculates the 3D printing sequence, but also the CNC milling required for the object.

The accuracy and quality we get from the printer allows us to bypass many of our internal manufacturing processes, giving us an edge to deliver a better, faster product to our customers. comments Ray Coombs, President and Founder of Westminster Tool, before concluding: There is still so much potential for metal additive processes in our industry, and we have barely scratched the surface. But we’re excited to get involved in more complex projects earlier in the mold making lifecycle and partner with more companies that are just as excited about this technology as we are. »

Complex mold made using Trueshape technology

Complex mold made using Trueshape technology (photo credits: Mantle)

Alexandre Moussion
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