Did you know a printer can be used to build a house, make musical instruments, and even create human organs? 3D printers, which use plastic as a raw material to build objects, are becoming an increasingly common sight at computer stores. What few people know, however, is that this process can also be carried out with metal through additive manufacturing, a method used to produce metal pieces on the basis of a 3D model by superimposing different layers of material.
The latest in this technology has reached Spain thanks to Addimen, an SME specializing in the design and manufacturing of metallic pieces with complex structures and geometries.
Since the end of 2016, Addimen has been working with Petronor on a pilot project that is part of the Bind 4.0 program, a start-up accelerator that seeks to drive innovation in the Basque Country. To achieve this, the program offers emerging companies the opportunity to develop on a more solid footing by working alongside established companies.
Joseba Sagarna, the company’s current manager, was one of its founders. With a background in metallurgy, specifically in drafting and project design, he joined other colleagues and began to explore business opportunities between 2012 and 2013. This was a “key period” in which advanced manufacturing techniques and new technologies were being supported by the government. We presented the project, the Basque government gave us a grant, and we had the good fortune of arriving on the scene just when a manufacturer wanted to import a 3D metal printer to Spain,” the entrepreneur explains. For Sagarna, it was very important to be able to rely on regional support “in an international project that more than 250 companies applied for.”
A versatile technology
Though this technology is often used to manufacture prototypes, the company is taking it one step further and delivering finished pieces directly to the final customer. The chief advantage of this is the time that’s saved. As Joseba put its, “manufacturing the first mold is a slow and expensive process, but we’re capable of manufacturing impellers in 24 hours.” By way of example, the company manufactured as many as ten impellers in a single week for a recent order.
In a joint project designed to validate this technology as a replacement for conventional manufacturing methods, Addimen used this new technique to manufacture stainless steel impellers and diffusers for Petronor to be used in seawater drainage pumps.
Though this technology is often used to manufacture prototypes, the company is taking it one step further and delivering finished pieces directly to the final customer
The aim: spreading knowledge and growth
In addition to handling industrial matters, Joseba attends different gatherings and conferences as a speaker. “Everyone wants to come see our technology because it’s different from anything they’ve encountered before,” the entrepreneur stresses, pointing out that the service they offer “does not pose a threat” to conventional manufacturers in the sector, but rather complements their offer.
Only now has Addimen begun to “reap the fruits” of its wager five years ago. “We thought we’d arrived on the market too soon, but now we realize we did it at just the right time,” says Joseba, who has his eyes set on the future, which includes “expanding the operations and including new materials, such as ceramics and plastics, to diversify the offer and broaden their share of the market.”
Though still a pilot project, Arturo Fernández has a very high opinion of these types of programs and especially values the collaboration with Addimen. “At Petronor, we are aware that large companies like ours should support and be aware of this technology, to assess in what processes it can be used both today and in the future. This joint project, in addition to offering opportunities for Basque start-ups, allows the company to be at the forefront in terms of new technologies.”