Based in Sugar Grove, IL, Met-L-Flo is a company that specializes is additive manufacturing (3D printing) and low volume production. The company employs 20 people who primarily work on aerospace, defense, automotive, and consumer products.
Unfortunately, most of the company's work is proprietary, so I couldn’t see much beyond some excellent 3D printed Han Solo blasters as well as some promotional Superman busts. However, I did have a chance to ask Met-L-Flo President Carl Dekker about the state of the additive manufacturing industry.
Dekker told me that of all the markets his company serves, aerospace and defense have the biggest upside. He says that additive manufacturing is finally being embraced by these industries because the processes have matured and the material properties are more predictable.
Some of the additive processes that Met-L-Flo has in-house include vat photopolymerization, extrusion, material jetting, and powder bed fusion technologies. The company also does vacuum forming, castings, and CNC machining, among others.
Dekker says that additive manufacturing technologies are exciting because they enable designs that were never before manufacturable, which will also lead to further advancements in part count consolidation and light weighting. Dekker recently traveled to IMTS 2018 in Chicago where he was impressed to finally see additive manufacturing systems discussed as a production machine tool.
But a future as a production machine tool has its caveats. For example, he asks, “What will be the impact of the first additive manufactured part failures?” Will it result from a “misrepresentation by the organizations or technologies? Will this be a failure because of improper application or the result of material properties not yet understood?” The future still holds many unknowns.
The Han Solo Blaster project actually started out as a gift for Dekker. According to Bill Braune, production manager at Met-L-Flo, the blaster was given to Dekker at AMUG 2018, the annual Additive Manufacturing Users Group conference. The blaster was so popular, that the company decided to use it as a marketing showpiece to display its advanced finishing capabilities.