Farsoon on open additive manufacturing and global expansion
"With the different requirements, we need to learn from the market and we can learn much better when we have entities within these regions."
Farsoon's large-format CAMS platform.
I recently took a tour of a huge additive manufacturing (AM) facility in the High-Tech Industrial Development Zone of Changsha in China. Transported to a multi-story site of machines, applications labs and powders, a good 5,500 miles from home, this particular excursion required neither a passport nor a week out of the office. The tour was a virtual one, hosted by Farsoon Technologies on its booth at TCT Show this year where the Chinese industrial 3D printer manufacturer was keen to talk about its recent international expansions and “open for industry” ethos.
The facility neighbours with several other science and technology companies but the currently vacant land directly next to this impressive building, hints towards Farsoon’s “grand plan” for further growth as Dirk Simon, Managing Director at Farsoon Europe told TCT on the company’s booth.
Expansion has been a recurring theme for the company, which was founded by laser sintering pioneer, Dr. Xu Xiaoshu just under a decade ago and specialises in powder-based polymer and metal laser sintering technology. In 2017, Farsoon launched Farsoon Americas in Austin, Texas to strengthen its operations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada and earlier this year, a new subsidiary, Farsoon Europe, was established in Germany. Simon spoke about Farsoon’s intentions to become “a global company” but that doesn’t happen overnight and Farsoon is taking the necessary strategic steps to ensure success.
“It’s clear it takes time and the requirements of different regions are different,” Simon explained. “We cannot believe that we can just sell the same product in China, in Europe and the U.S. and it will be in the top league. With the different requirements, we need to learn from the market and we can learn much better when we have entities within these regions and have direct customer interaction and beta and R&D programmes with customers. We take this information into our R&D and our production in China to optimise our products.”
Dirk Simon, Managing Director, Farsoon Europe GmbH.
This flexibility is being enabled by Farsoon’s open technology approach. Just because you buy a Farsoon machine, it doesn’t mean you have to use a certain material or auxiliary technology. Simon compares this to his experience in the injection moulding industry some 15 years ago where he was surprised to discover how much each piece of moulding operations varied, even if the primary technology was largely the same.
“The core is maybe the same but how they operate is fully different from injection moulder to injection moulder,” Simon commented. “This is diversity. We cannot serve all with one solution. So, it needs customisation and we are ready to customise our offers to our customers according to these needs.”
Farsoon believes openness is essential for the development of the industry as a whole. On the booth at TCT, the company presented a selection of materials which can be processed on its machines ranging from Polyamide 6 to carbon fibre-filled nylon powers. The company has also qualified a number of metal powders with select material partners and polymer giants such as BASF. That said, if customers do need some guidance in selecting the best material, Farsoon says it has the right applications and material knowledge to offer it. Working with big industrial customers like Diamler and Bosch, Simon believes there is a clear demand for this open for industry approach. He commented, "You increase competitiveness when you can buy materials from different sources."
Browsing around Farsoon’s HQ, there’s plenty of variation around the company’s own range of machines with various generations, configurations and capabilities, depending on application. The latest is the HT1001P, the first machine built on Farsoon’s CAMS (Continuous Additive Manufacturing Solution) machine concept. The technology is designed to offer scalable, continuous production with one of the biggest plastic powder bed build volumes on the market at 1000 x 500 x 450 mm. The machine is currently under beta testing with customers including China-based injection mould maker, SAPW, which leveraged the technology to produce what is believed to be the world’s largest automotive HVAC housing at just under 1 metre long with an accuracy of 0.1 mm, all in a single print.
“It's printed in one part and that's one of the major interests, customers want large parts, but we also see this topic of high productivity - many, many parts per time,” Simon elaborated. “There's one existing customer who has a part about 125 grams and we calculated he can produce [with this machine] 60,000 parts per year and this is at a really reasonable price, you cannot do it with injection moulding at that price.”
HVAC housing printed in one piece on Farsoon's HT1001P beta system.
Farsoon is upping productivity with dual 100-watt lasers and scanning speeds of 15m/s but speed isn’t the only thing the company is addressing. The company is also looking at how CAMS fits into the overall manufacturing workflow by bringing together loading, build, cooling, part breakout and post processing, overseen by data processing and real-time monitoring, very much in-line with current AM factory of the future trends.
“AM [it] certainly needs more innovation on speed and throughput and one of the dominant questions in industry is the reproducibility - not just quality control but really having a quality assurance system," Simon added. "When I compare AM, let’s say, the maturity of that market with my experiences in injection moulding, I saw a lot of injection moulding customers, so I know how they operate, what they need. These are the things where I compare maturity or readiness level and there is, especially on the quality assurance side, still a lot to do.”
Next month, Farsoon will be joining the rest of the AM industry at the annual Formnext event in Frankfurt. Though no details have been revealed just yet Simon says the company has an announcement up its sleeve which will “surprise the AM industry”. Watch this space.