‘Digital manufacturing’ beats conventional production techniques
“With 3D-printing, much less material is lost” Bram Grandjean, sales and project manager
A dental implant that fits perfectly? A made-to-measure machine component? 3D-printing offers a solution to specialised questions. “Our 3D-printer generates digital designs step by step. This means that we do not need to mill from a chunk of metal and that we waste far less material,” says Bram Grandjean from the design and production company Melotte.
Melotte in Zonhoven specialises in making components that require great precision, complex shapes, special materials and small quantities. Production methods include the traditional turning, milling, grinding and spark erosion, as well as modern 3D printing techniques. The fact that Melotte combines classical processes and 3D printing makes it quite unique.
“For Melotte, 3D printing is an important and complementary technology for creating specialised products,” says sales and project manager Bram Grandjean. “Our customers come to us because we supply items that meet their very specific demands. We use innovative designs to optimise their production processes, so that a machine consumes less water or energy, for example. Sustainability also plays an important role in our own production.”
Nothing is wasted
A 3D-printer only uses the material that is required to build a particular product. You can compare it with a potter, who just needs a handful of clay to make a pot, rather than a sculptor who carves away at a large block of marble to make a statue. Bram Grandjean: “Another term for 3D printing is additive manufacturing: you keep adding a little more material until your product is ready. To make a small component weighing 20 grams by 3D printing, we would use a maximum of 21 grams of printing material. If we did the same by milling a block of material, much more would be thrown away.”
The benefits of 3D printing go beyond the reduced consumption of materials. “We carried out a life cycle analysis for Melotte Dental, our division making dental implants. This also demonstrated savings on transport and storage,” says Bram Grandjean. “We take delivery of a parcel of metal powder for 3D printing every two or three months, whereas with conventional production companies the lorries are continuously coming and going. We operate less with methods that cause pollution, such as turning and milling, in which machines must be cooled with water and chemicals. And we save energy: our 3D printer has a capacity of 400 watts, compared to 10,000 watts for our milling machine.”
“The patient benefits as well. He must only undergo a mouth scan: the metal base of the implant is designed and printed digitally. That is a considerable improvement to the traditional procedure, involving lots of work and waste: taking an impression of the teeth, making a plaster cast, using wax to make a mould in which to pour the metal implant... Our method is faster and requires less effort.”
Melotte’s main motivation to start with 3D printing was innovation. Bram Grandjean: “Melotte’s innovative nature has given us a great name in the metal industry. We have also emphasised the benefits in terms of innovation, quality and sustainability. We intend to continue extending and refining our 3D activities in the coming years.”