Being interested in new technology I am keeping a keen eye on the extent to which 3D printing is being utilized by the valve industry.
A little while ago, for example, I visited a certain manufacturer who made very large, very heavy and very complex valves. When I asked how on earth they exhibited at trade fairs, the marketing manager pointed to a small-scale model of one of their valves sitting atop a cupboard.
“It’s just one of the many models we have made up using our own 3D printer,” he explained. “These models are light-weight, cheap to make, easy to transport, and look great on our stand. In fact, many people come up for a closer look, see how the models work and start to ask questions. So these 3D valves are proving great at initiating conversations.”
Of course these were just plastic models but some metal components too are being 3D printed. For example, one of my colleagues recently dropped in on engineering company KSD in Germany. During a plant tour, the Managing Director Mrs Steffi Kästner showed how they are using laser cladding as an additive manufacturing technique to produce components. In fact, KSD has come up with an integrated system they are calling Rapid Laser Materials Manufacturing, or R:LM2 for short.
As my colleague reported, the R:LM2 system currently being used by KSD is very flexible and could, for example, be used almost as a 3D printer, making complex components. However, it is the system’s ability to generate new and unique materials that Mrs Kästner says will be really interesting to industry. Mrs Kästner: “what makes this system so innovative is the degree of control we now have when it comes to developing and applying special materials. The computer simulation software can accurately predict how any given material will react when it comes to erosion and corrosion performance.”
KSD is therefore continuing its research into hard alloys based upon elements such as iron, manganese and chromium. The idea is to tailor-make alloys for specific applications. For example, KSD sees that both austenitic alloys and metastable austenitics which offer good corrosion resistance could be useful in power plants (for pumps, valves and sliding rings) as well as valve seats in general.
And it is clear that some manufacturers are finding yet more ways to benefit from 3D printing technology. For example, our sister publication, 3dfp, recently ran a case study featuring Dixon Valve in Chestertown, Maryland, USA. There they are using a Mark Two industrial strength 3D printer as a time-effective way to manufacture tools in-house.
“Dixon Valve is a manufacturer of fittings for fluid transfer industries,” Max de Arriz, Manufacturing Engineer at the company, explains. “We’re using a large robotic arm to transfer many styles of our parts between two vertical turning centres.”
To ensure the robot can properly grip the various parts the company needs to purpose-make tooling and clamps for each individual type of component. In the past, these would have been machined, which was an expensive and time-consuming operation. However, thanks to the introduction of a 3D printer, tooling can be made much more quickly and for just a fraction of the cost.
So it seems that some people in the valve industry are already tapping into 3D printing in various ways in their facilities. But I am still very curious as to if and how other valve makers are using 3D printing? Please let me know via email@example.com
! Maybe we can feature your story here or in Valve World magazine.