Aerosint is one of the most interesting startups on the global scene and it’s no wonder that Desktop Metal used some of the capital it raised after the IPO to acquire it. The young Belgian company developed a system for multi-material metal PBF 3D printing. This means they can print different metals in a single job with extreme precision to produce net shape parts. This is a lot of potential but in a manufacturing world that is still struggling to find viable and cost-effective applications for single material 3D printed metal parts, Aerosint’s biggest challenge is to find viable commercial applications for its technology. So the team ran a contest. And the results – a gorgeous multi-metal 3D printed phoenix – are truly impressive. But the phoenix alone cannot solve the application riddle.
So let’s go back and explore how Aerosint came to be to try to understand where it is headed. Founded in 2016, Aerosint invented a unique process called Selective Powder Deposition (SPD). This is based on a recoater enabling multi-metal LPBF 3D printing. Since its foundation, Aerosint has been developing this technology to selectively deposit multiple powders to form a single layer containing at least two materials. It’s an alternative to single material roller or blade recoaters traditionally used in powder bed processes.
So far SPD technology has been applied to LPBF but it can also be used for other powder metallurgy technologies such as metal binder jetting, and pressure-assisted sintering. This is one of the reasons why Desktop Metal used some of the $2 billion in capital it raised from going public (via SPAC-merger) to acquire it.
This gave the Aerosint team the funds to continue development. For LPBF application development, Aerosint works with a system from Aconity, which are built specifically for application, material and process development. In fact, the Aerosint multi-metal recoater can be purchased as an option with the AconityMIDI+ and the AconityMICRO LPBF printers. Those printers are the first commercial multi-metal L-PBF printers on the market. Alternatively, SPD can be used in non-additive pressure-assisted sintering. In this case, the Aerosint die-filling machine allows to stack up to 3 powders precisely in a mold with an internal diameter of up to 100 mm. This binder-free technique enables the combination of multiple materials into a multi-material blank or near-net shape. The process is compatible with metals and ceramics.
Aerosint also offers multi-metal 3D printing services as well as R&D services to companies that want to develop complex multimaterial metal parts. And that may be the biggest pain point at this time. There is no doubt that multi-metal 3D printing capabilities can be a game changer in certain aerospace, medical, even consumer applications. However, those applications need to be identified and designed. That’s not easy to do. To accelerate the process, Aerosint ran an internal contest for designers to submit ideas. The winning entry was an aerospike rocket nozzle (created by one of its own engineers). It looked impressive but a (non-aerospike) multi-metal 3D printed nozzle had been seen before using DED technology and the company must have thought it was time to move beyond.
That led to the multi-metal 3D printed phoenix which shows precision and moving parts that are impossible to achieve with a near net shape process but may lack some in terms of actual functionality. Where is the middle ground? Among the companies that Desktop Metal acquired, there is one called Aidro that already showed it can develop production applications in the hydraulic valve segment. Multi-metal capabilities may come in handy for hydraulic applications and systems. Hopefully, we will see more soon.