Meltio Engine transforms any CNC machine into a hybrid 3D print system
Hybrid manufacturing systems like DMG Mori's Lasertec 65 DED hybrid are starting to pop up here and there with the ability both to add metal via laser deposition 3D printing, and to subtract it via more traditional milling processes, giving you somewhat of a one-step process that can create the kind of slightly rough shape you expect from additive manufacture, then hone it back to perfection with CNC milling tools.
Spanish company Meltio – and what a joyous name that is for a Spanish company specializing in laser deposition – has now come up with an additive manufacturing head that can be fitted to pretty much any existing CNC milling machine, gantry system or industrial robot arm. It's a metal printing head with its own deployment system, that extends when it's time to lay some metal down and retracts when it's time to get a cutting tool in the spindle and start machining.
The Engine prints a range of metals, including stainless steel, Inconel and titanium, using up to six lasers to melt and deposit wire or powder feed – or indeed both simultaneously, without needing to change the head. Processes for copper, aluminum, molybdenum, tungsten, gold, Invar and X9 are under development.
The CNC arm gives it full five-axis positioning capability and precision, and Meltio provides a control computer with a flip-up touchscreen for setup and monitoring of work. Where all-in-one systems like the Lasertec device above are confined within boxes that restrict the size of the parts you can work on, the Meltio head can work on anything you can get your robot arm to reach. The company says it's likely to be an attractive upgrade to existing automotive and aerospace manufacturing equipment, among other industries.
Where some 3D print systems are designed mainly for prototyping and one-off custom part creation, this is conceived as a fully-fledged production system ready to deploy its remarkable capabilities at serious volume. And when it's not being used to create parts from scratch, it can be used to modify existing parts, or even to repair metal parts that have been cracked or damaged.
Meltio calls it "the first affordable hybrid manufacturing solution catering to almost any tooling machine in the market" – and backs that up by talking prices in an industry that generally plays its cards very close to its chest. The Meltio Engine starts at €90,000 (over US$100k), so it's certainly not a hobby-grade piece of kit, but for that price it can do what some multi-million-dollar hybrid systems can, without any size constraints – and that adds some pretty revolutionary capabilities to almost any manufacturer that's got at least one CNC mill in house.
Check out the launch video below.