New metal 3D printing company SPEE3D has subverted all my expectations about a revolution in metal additive manufacturing technology. Why should you care? I recently transitioned from being a Content Marketing role to the Product Marketing Manager for Additive at Fusion 360. Being in this role and being an additive manufacturing enthusiast for nearly a decade has made me quite skeptical when a new kid on the block makes bold claims about their product.
You’re probably wondering—what has SPEE3D done to wrinkle your brain so much, and what’s up with this simulator you speak of in this article’s headline?
Well, Co-Founder and CTO of SPEE3D Steve Camilleri developed SPEE3D to create a solution to a problem he thought others would benefit from. Let’s dive into Camilleri’s backstory and why everyone interested in additive manufacturing should pay attention to what they’ve done before we get into the simulator.
Camilleri has a background in electronics engineering and a master’s in electric vehicle design, so he started his career building products for the EV world. “Quite a long way from SPEE3D,” as he puts it. His first company produced high-efficiency electric motors, developed out of research for the solar car race.
He eventually designed an electric motor that became the standard for swimming pool pumps. It’s maybe not the most exciting application you’ve ever heard of, but each of those motors saves about a ton of carbon emissions per year, and most importantly for Camilleri, it shifted his perspective on global manufacturing. Eventually, the company was bought out by a US manufacturer that built factories worldwide to produce the pumps.
“During this process, we learned how difficult it was to make these pumps, so we decided to get into improving the situation in the middle by metal 3D printing, says Camilleri. “But it was too slow and expensive.” That was the inception moment for SPEE3D and the tech they created.
As Camilleri explained, working with metal in mass manufacturing is touch-limited, with most people leaning on casting or machining. Casting can be extremely costly to set up, especially to those without the specialized knowledge to get parts as close to perfection as possible on the first try. Then there are all the challenges with lead times, product changes, and next thing you know, your production cycle has been pushed out by as much as 20 weeks.
But how do you solve this with 3D printing? You can’t really switch to DMLS or a similar metal process and call it a day. Those production processes are still expensive (although getting cheaper by the day), and the pricing means that mass production with those processes is reserved for very specialized parts. It’s not really fathomable to try and make more standard forms with these processes. “The idea was to get away from melting the material—that’s how we were going to really speed things up to get away from the physical limits imposed by melting metals.”
So how does it work? SPEE3D has solved one of the biggest challenges with metal 3D printing with what they call ‘Supersonic 3D Deposition,’ where a rocket nozzle accelerates air up to three times the speed of sound, into which metal powder is injected then deposited onto a substrate maneuvered by a six-axis robotic arm. In layman’s terms, they’re essentially smashing the metal into itself at an extreme speed, meaning you don’t have to wait for layers to cool before applying the next. Most importantly, this enables end-users to receive a part with similar material properties to a cast object.
The icing on the cake, though, is a consideration for hybrid manufacturing from the get-go. Metals are typically used in situations where tolerances matter. Thanks to SPEE3D’s foresight (and Fusion 360), they can consider the subtractive element to be part of the entire manufacturing process. “The real advantage, though, is that you can make parts cheaply and quickly,” says Camilleri.
He took me through a real-world example: Let’s say you’re a motorcycle manufacturer, and you want to make a prototype. To get your parts cast, you could have to wait 16 weeks to get all of your parts and cost them out. And when you get your samples back, some will be distorted, and the manufacturer will typically tell you, “Sorry, I did the best I could.” Then you have to spend time ironing out quality issues, keeping communication going with the foundry, and eventually, you’ll arrive somewhere we’ve all been: with a simple part that has eaten up a lot of your budget. SPEE3D’s tech completely eliminates that issue. There’s no tooling to worry about, no setup time, and it’s all virtual.
Suddenly, your motorcycle manufacturing process became straightforward, affordable, and your lead time to production is feasible again—thanks to additive manufacturing. You could arguably even use a 3D printed part directly in the mass-produced edition of your product with the dramatic cost reduction SPEE3D offers.
“The process is aimed squarely at improving some of the difficulties of casting,” says Camilleri. “A lot of people compare us to other 3D printing companies, but in fact, we don’t really have any competitors. There’s nobody else who’s trying to build volume, low-cost casting alternatives.”
The SPEE3D process is 100 to 1000 times faster than traditional 3D metal printing. This high speed enables you to think of metal additive manufacturing as a real-world manufacturing solution, rather than just a prototyping or low volume production method. It’s so fast and user-friendly, for example, that the Australian army is one of their customers. They’ve deployed the machines out in the field so soldiers can print replacement parts of mission-critical equipment on-site instead of waiting for supplies to be deployed to them.
SPEE3D’s latest endeavor is SPEE3DCraft, a training-based simulator where you can develop your metal additive manufacturing skills and virtually design, print, post-process, and supply metal parts using SPEE3D tech. SPEE3DCraft also features Fusion 360 (yes! Fusion 360 is officially in a video game!), so you can interact with your project and realistically design metal 3D printed parts all in the same environment.
So what’s next for SPEE3D and the whole team? Well, you should play SPEE3DCRAFT to find out!