October 12 was a big day for the UK’s additive manufacturing (AM) sector, with the launch of voxeljet UK's new manufacturing facility in Milton Keynes. The team has not forgotten its creative beginnings—voxeljet UK was formed when the German parent company acquired the model making business of PropShop in 2014. The clearest evidence of this was the large number of TV and movie props dotted around the facility, and the large Red Dwarf STARBUG was particularly eye-catching.
However, what was also clear was the ambition of the company to move into new areas; in his opening remarks, James Reeves, managing director (MD) of voxeljet UK, expressed a strong intention to break into the high-volume automotive sector. Ingo Ederer, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of voxeljet GmbH also talked about the need for company focus to change as the industrial climate changes, making it very apparent that the company has no intent to rest on its laurels.
As you might expect for a company making its mark in such an innovative area as AM, there was no simple unveiling of a ceremonial plaque—instead, the VIP guests to the event were invited to smash a 3D printed cage to get to the plaque inside.
The facility itself is deceptively spacious and is largely up and running with several of the company’s existing sand and polymer processes in place. There is also room for further expansion including space for more machines as time goes on, and I got the impression that the site is likely to expand even further as and when new premises open up in the surrounding area of Milton Keynes.
For me, an exciting part of the event was the chance to hear a bit more about voxeljet's first commercial high-speed sintering (HSS) system, which was announced earlier this year. Of course, I may be a little biased, given that we have the 'alpha' machine in our Advanced Polymer Sintering lab at Sheffield University, but this system marks a clear expansion in focus from the casting applications arena that voxeljet has traditionally been known for, into higher volume end-use production. At the facility opening, visitors were only able to peer at the new machine from behind a window, but look out for the official launch of the HSS platform at formnext powered by TCT in Frankfurt next month.
The initial HSS system is relatively small, particularly by voxeljet standards (~ 9 litres of part production per day) and is currently only certified for nylon 12, but the company is already thinking about its next offering. It sounds like this will be largely defined by their customers; as James put it: 'We'll keep making bigger machines until people stop asking for them to be bigger.’ The same is likely to be true for which materials come next, with the team keen to hear industry requirements for this. Having said that, the general direction looks to be heading towards bigger, faster and lower cost.
Of course, voxeljet is up against some big players in this market, notably HP with its multi jet fusion (MJF) process, but in the current climate it seems certain that there's room for some healthy competition. Only time will tell how far these technologies spread and into which sectors, but one thing is for sure, there are exciting times ahead in the world of high-speed polymer AM!