Mazak is a Kentucky-based company specializing in CNC machines, but they also offer an interesting metal 3D printing option.
To say they specialize in CNC equipment would be an understatement, as the company offers large-scale CNC manufacturing equipment in multiple processes for a variety of complex making applications.
One of their products is a series of 5-axis CNC machines (dozens of models, actually) that can be used for many purposes. Typically, these are used with milling heads for subtractive manufacturing.
However, one of them is quite different.
In 2014, Mazak introduced a hybrid CNC / 3D metal printer based on their existing and mature 5-axis CNC technology. Last year they introduced the current model, the VC-500AM.
The machine uses a metal printing approach that’s different from most 3D metal printer vendors of this size, who typically employ a powder bed / laser system.
Instead, the VC-500AM uses a powerful laser mounted on a robot arm that instantly melts jetted metal powder. As the system moves about in three dimensions, it essentially creates a moving melt pool.
This direct deposition approach offers several advantages over the standard powder bed approach, in that parts can be 3D printed more rapidly, as there is no need to refill the powder bed on each layer.
But there’s another powerful advantage to this machine: it is also a CNC machine. This hybrid approach means you will be able to mill the exterior surface of metal 3D prints in the same machine, making their surface finish perfect - or at least as good as you could expect with a CNC machine.
I asked whether the company is considering implementing a melt pool monitoring system that several other 3D metal printer vendors are just now releasing. These systems can monitor melt pool quality in real time and notify operators if a part drops below thresholds. Apparently Mazak is “working on it”, so we may see them announce this feature in the future.
There are obviously a number of options with a machine of this size, but we’re told the VC500-AM starts at USD$500K.