Tips for Running a Successful Additive Manufacturing Machine Shop

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**The Secret to Success in Metal 3D Printing – Insights from i3DMFG CEO**

Nestled inconspicuously near the municipal airport in Redmond, Oregon lies a hidden gem – one of the most advanced machine shops on the U.S. West Coast. Founded in 2013, i3DMFG is a trailblazer in metal additive manufacturing, using 3D printing technology to create aerospace parts and components for medical devices. Equipped with over a dozen state-of-the-art EOS 3D printers, i3DMFG is a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

Unlike traditional machine shops that typically transition into additive manufacturing, i3DMFG had a different approach right from the start. CEO Erin Stone explains, “We deliberately held off on incorporating CNC machine capabilities until the demand became undeniable. Our goal was to establish ourselves as experts in metal additive manufacturing and focus on production rather than simply being a prototype shop.”

Initially, i3DMFG planned to specialize in molds and toolmaking. However, a game-changing contract with Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ company in the private space race, propelled the company towards aerospace applications. Stone recalls, “Blue Origin lacked additive capabilities at the time, while SpaceX did. That’s when they started using us as their additive arm. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant – an overwhelming but exciting entry into the market.”

Unbeknownst to many, i3DMFG’s inception was driven by a desire to enhance the quality of life for others. Prior to founding i3DMFG, Stone worked in project management, where she witnessed a burgeoning demand for metal additive manufacturing. Inspired, she decided to channel that demand towards creating family-wage jobs in the Northwest. This decision has paid off as i3DMFG now possesses unique capabilities and expertise, allowing them to take on complex jobs successfully.

One significant advantage i3DMFG holds over its competitors is its diverse range of metal options. Stone explains, “We stock between 16 and 17 different metals, and our EOS machines have always had open-parameter licenses. This enables us to stay ahead of the market.” However, being exclusively focused on additive manufacturing did have its downsides initially. Stone admits that they may have trailed some competitors who could generate revenue through more straightforward precision machining jobs.

Today, i3DMFG has expanded into various industries, producing additive parts for aerospace, defense, non-invasive medical devices, and high-performance bicycles. Stone envisions a bright future for the company, stating, “There are other arenas emerging rapidly, and we plan to be an integral part of them.”

Despite their commitment to additive manufacturing, Stone understands that it is not a replacement for precision machining. In fact, most additive parts require some form of post-processing, making precision machining essential. While it is possible to redesign traditionally machined parts for 3D printing, the cost-benefit analysis may not always justify the switch. Stone explains, “Occasionally, it makes sense with certain expensive metals, as you’re not wasting 50-70 percent of the material on the floor. But the real advantage lies in complex geometries and organic shapes, optimizing parts to their fullest potential.”

For traditional machine shops, embracing additive manufacturing can expand capabilities rather than replacing existing offerings. In fact, integrating 3D printers into a shop’s pre-existing subtractive capabilities enables them to offer turnkey solutions to customers – 3D printed parts that are post-processed all in one place.

As i3DMFG continues to blaze trails in the metal additive manufacturing industry, their story serves as an inspiration to manufacturers worldwide. With their passion for innovation and commitment to excellence, i3DMFG is undeniably shaping the future of manufacturing, one 3D-printed part at a time.

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