Breaking The Mold In ManufacturingBy Alejandro Enríquez | Sun, 05/10/2020 - 13:00
The automotive industry has been an active promoter of emerging technologies, in particular additive manufacturing, but mostly in European and Asian countries. Mexican companies are still weary of trying new equipment, even though additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has become more common, according to Sebastián Romo, Founder and CEO of Tridi.
“There is still a great deal of reluctance to try new manufacturing processes,” says Romo. “Decision-making has also become more complicated and there are more people involved in choosing a new provider.” Companies abroad are used to this process and they tend to send prototypes or parts to their facilities in Mexico made through additive manufacturing technology. Romo says that although the country does have research centers capable of delivering those same prototypes locally, they tend to be overly bureaucratic, which is why companies often prefer to work with overseas entities.
Additive manufacturing might be normal abroad but Tridi has found itself in the middle of an education campaign in Mexico to show what 3D printing really is and how it can benefit companies, particularly in the manufacturing process where the technology once was seen as slow. “Companies would feel discouraged about including it in their manufacturing process, although prototyping equipment has helped to spread the word on 3D printing,” Romo says. “We are in the process of re-educating the market so companies understand how 3D printing has evolved and the overall reach it can have in the actual manufacturing process, not only in prototyping.” The company is working with clusters, chambers of commerce and state ministries of economy to target as many clients as possible and showcase its capabilities to supply equipment and work as a contract manufacturer.
Tridi began developing products for tooling applications, which led the company to acquire more advanced solutions. Still, it had not delved into metal, high-quality resins or high-engineering thermoplastic applications, which limited the results it could offer to potential clients. In 2018, the company established a global relationship with US 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys that gave it access to more advanced equipment. Thanks to this alliance, Tridi will introduce state-of-the-art equipment to the country at highly competitive prices, eliminating the need for clients to import equipment or components.
The main advantage this new relationship will bring to Tridi is related to costs. “So far, what we can offer to clients is hardly competitive against what they could find in the US,” says Romo. Stratasys’ portfolio will give Tridi access to all seven additive manufacturing technologies ¬– material extrusion, powder bed fusion, material jetting, binder jetting, directed energy deposition, VAT photopolymerization and sheet lamination – according to the standard set by the American Society for Testing and Materials in 2010. “This is something that no other company in Mexico can offer,” Romo adds. “We will even have access to experimental technologies.”
Under this new corporate scheme, Tridi will also have an unlimited manufacturing capability because it will have access to Stratasys’ Global Manufacturing Network of 300 industrial 3D printers. If for some reason Tridi surpasses its manufacturing capabilities in Mexico, the company can fill orders abroad, mainly in the US. Stratasys will also invest US$1.5 million in Mexico now that Tridi is part of the Global Manufacturing Network. This first stage in Stratasys’ larger investment plan will focus on introducing two pieces of equipment, one for large-component manufacturing and the other for engineering thermoplastics. “These two machines will help us triple our sales and as we ramp up our operations, more machines will come,” says Romo.
Contract manufacturing is where Romo sees the biggest area of opportunity. Although the company has helped some of its clients to purchase industrial grade 3D printers, Tridi has found that subcontracting production of components using additive manufacturing could help companies avoid having to invest in a machine. “For an industrial grade 3D printer of over US$70,000 to be financially viable, the company would have to keep it running at least at 50 percent of its capability or 12 hours daily to see a return on the investment” he says.
Beyond prototyping, Romo thinks companies have much to discover regarding 3D printing and its capabilities for manufacturing-aiding components production and terminated parts. “Overall, this technology would be most beneficial for companies in the aerospace and heavy-vehicle markets that work with small production volumes, substituting molds for direct manufacturing especially in rapidly changing or highly customable environments,” he says.