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Industrial Strength 3D Printers: Matsuura Machinery

Media worldwide have been focusing on the potential of 3D printing in recent years. One leader in the industrial use of this technology is Matsuura Machinery Corp., located in Fukui Prefecture. This article profiles the company and its new Lumex Avance-25 machine, which is revolutionizing the production of dies and molds.

Lumex Machine Cuts Costs and Labor Time

Matsuura Machinery Corp., located in Fukui Prefecture, developed its first hybrid metal laser sintering and milling machine back in November 2002. The Lumex Avance-25, now in its fourth generation, forms three-dimensional objects one layer at a time by placing a layer of metal powder on the processing table, sintering it with laser light, and then repeating the same process with the next layer. As the object is built up, its surface is simultaneously finished with high-speed milling.

Chief researcher Gotō Motohiro alongside the prototype Lumex machine at the development laboratory of the Industrial Technology Center of Fukui Prefecture.

Molds made in this way can be finished with much greater precision than by using other methods. The Lumex makes it possible to arrange ducts within a die or mold in any way desired, greatly improving the cooling effect of plastic poured into the mold and raising productivity. On top of this, the objects produced are strong enough for use as finished products, not just interim molds.

The Lumex is the first machine to combine the two jobs of forming and milling in a single unit. As a result, design and processing times that previously took two weeks to one month can be shortened by a third and costs can be reduced by up to half. Because it allows for fully automated operations, the machine can also reduce labor costs. In all these ways, the machine can be a godsend for manufacturers desperate to cut costs.

Amazing Product, Awkward Name

When Matsuura was developing the prototype of the Lumex, the term “3D printer” was not yet in common use. At first the prototype was given the tongue-tripping name, “metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine.” The machines were not quick to catch on because few people were aware of additive manufacturing technology and the cost was prohibitive, at around ¥70 million per machine.

Matsuura Katsutoshi, current president of Matsuura Machinery.

But the situation has changed over the past year or two, with the debut of personal 3D printers sold at electronics stores for as little as ¥100,000 or less. Since these devices build up plastic or other materials and give them shape, it appears at first glance as if they create three-dimensional objects out of thin air. In the media they were hailed as “magic boxes,” and the 3D printer boom took off.

There is growing awareness in society of this technology to create three-dimensional objects. Today the impact of the 3D printer movement can be seen everywhere from the level of personal use to industrial applications. The spread of this technology in Japan has benefitted from the introduction of a national system to subsidize investment in cutting-edge technologies such as 3D printers.

Despite the 3D printer boom, Matsuura had stuck with the name “metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine.” But this year the company finally gave in and changed the name to “hybrid metal 3D printer.” Company president Matsuura Katsutoshi explains: “No matter how much we insisted that our product was a ‘metal laser sintering hybrid milling machine’ or ‘additive fabrication machine,’ most people still viewed it as a 3D printer.”

Video of the Lumex Avance-25 (courtesy of Matsuura Machinery).

  • [2014.10.28]
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