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3D-MetalPrint—making perfect metal parts

07 Sep 2016 | Front page, A region on the move

In 2015 Maxime Hugues launched a new company specializing in additive metal manufacturing. One year on, his business supplies highly complex parts to leading manufacturers. We asked him to tell us about 3D-MetalPrint and how his success story began.

What led you to launch 3D-MetalPrint?

“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and over time it became obvious that I should start my own business. While I was studying biomedical engineering in Lille, I noticed that titanium was frequently used in sophisticated applications such as implants and high-tech manufacturing parts. And when I learned that you could print objects using powdered titanium and a high-power laser, I was fascinated.

In 2011 I was hired by LayerWise, a Belgian company specializing in metal 3D printing and later acquired by 3DSystems. And it was there that I got to explore the technology’s full potential. LayerWise was a spinoff of the Catholic University of Leuven; it was unique in that it designed and manufactured its own machines to print parts. We also had a lot of freedom in R&D. So I got my start there, and moved up through the ranks. Eventually I became head of their French operations, but I still wanted to start my own business. So in September 2015 I took the plunge and launched 3D-MetalPrint, or 3D-MP for short.”

What are the advantages of this new technology?

“3D metal printing gives us enormous design freedom, including new shapes and forms that simply weren’t possible in the past. The printer builds up layers of metal powder and fuses them with a laser, creating parts whose mechanical properties are equivalent to those made with conventional processes. It’s perfect for specialized industries with high-tech applications, and lets us produce complex parts that would be impossible otherwise. At 3D-MP, our goal is to harness this process to mass-produce technical parts. Give us a complex design, and we can develop a stable, reliable production process.

And there are savings at a number of levels. A laser is an all-purpose tool, so you don’t have to make special equipment to manufacture a part. You also don’t need a lot of raw materials—unlike machining, there are no shavings to recycle, for example. And because lasers are extremely efficient, the process doesn’t require much energy. Turnaround times are also shorter. For example, machining an RF cage for the electronic modules used on satellites would take eight weeks. We can do it in one. The other advantage is that we can make a wide range of components. We can meet very different needs and still deliver the same high quality.”

What obstacles have you encountered?

“As with any new business, our biggest challenge has been generating enough sales and earning the trust of our clients.”

Who are you working with now?

“The scope of application for 3D metal printing is very broad. We work with a wide variety of sectors—aeronautics, medical technology, high-tech manufacturing and the automotive industry. Our clients include Thales Group, Lille University Hospital Center, Optimized System Engineering and Clariance.”

How did Nord France Invest help you?

“Nord France Invest helped me find the right location. They gave me a single point of contact who quickly provided information on solutions that would work for my business. The Saint-Omer urban council had an incubator that was perfect for 3D-MetalPrint. And since the customers for this technology are everywhere, I came back to my home region so I could enjoy the quality of life that Northern France offers. The incubator is an ideal environment, and the services it offers are particularly well suited to a business like mine.”

What are the next steps in your growth process?

“Our priority is to invest in a stock of machines to grow our client portfolio. We need to work on mass-produced applications, especially in aeronautics, medicine and space."

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